Local preference policy nice rhetoric, dubious practice

Variations on the “buy local” theme appear in marketing efforts in countless cities and towns across the U.S. They are wonderful – and wise – initiatives to draw attention to local purveyors, from book stores and boutiques to independent restaurants and everyday retail.

As far as municipal government goes, however, it is nice rhetorically, but similar practice is questionable policy, can easily prompt corruption and borders on arrogant.

The City of Minot is considering revising the way it awards bids for products and services, to give extra weight to bids from local providers.

In principle, proponents would point to the economic advantage this would offer, and that is tempting in concept.

In reality, discouraging capable bidders inevitably increases cost, sets up situations where collusion and corruption would be routinely perceived even if not practiced, and shows a remarkable degree of insensitivity to the taxpayers.

“I am willing to spend somewhat more to buy local,” council member Stephan Podrygula said last week, in discussion of a bid process that prompted this policy discussion. “I am willing to spend 5 percent. I am willing to spend 10 percent. Fourteen percent is pushing the envelope to me. We owe it to the citizens to have frugal government.”

As Minot Daily News has asserted before, it’s easy to spend other people’s money, which is the underlying problem with government spending. Government should be in the business of using its massive buying power to save taxpayer money, not redistribute it.

There are countless ways in which the city council can encourage and assist local businesses, support entrepreneurs and add fuel to the local and regional economies.

This probably isn’t one of them.

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