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Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Insult to injury: New contract for car emission testing to cost $1.8 billion!

Going Green, Government / Bureaucracy, TAXES, WISCONSIN

Call this another soft tyranny!

State rebidding contract for vehicle emissions tests

Madison - The state will rebid a contract to test vehicle emissions, a move that will cause delays likely costing taxpayers $1.8 million and possibly much more.

The emissions-testing contract has been at the center of controversy - and a lawsuit - because the state Department of Transportation wants to allow testing at car repair shops. Critics say the public would be skeptical of tests performed by people who would gain financially from making repairs, but the DOT argues that it could protect consumers while offering them one-stop shopping.

DOT officials said they were not canceling the procurement process because of the lawsuit.

The state was set to pay $315,000 a month for emissions testing with a new vendor, but its plans were slowed when the current tester sued this fall over the contract. This month, the state formally canceled its procurement process and said it would start over - which means the state likely will continue to pay $918,750 a month for testing, or almost three times what it was set to pay under the new contract.

The new contract was to take effect July 1, 2009, but now won't take effect until Oct. 1 or later. It could easily stretch into 2010 because the last procurement process took 18 months. An 18-month delay would cost about an additional $10.9 million.

Emissions testing is required in seven southeastern Wisconsin counties under federal law, but drivers from all over the state pay for the testing through gas taxes and vehicle registration fees.

The testing is required in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine, Kenosha and Sheboygan counties because those areas violate federal standards for ground-level ozone, a pollutant that causes respiratory ailments.

The state announced plans in May to have Chicago-based Applus+ Technologies conduct the tests at 10 existing facilities, as well as 25 car repair shops.

The current tester, Envirotest Systems Corp. of Connecticut, sued to block the contract in October, arguing that the arrangement with Applus+ violated a consumer protection statute that says testing companies can't be in the car repair business.

The DOT argued that the plan was on solid legal footing because the repair shops were subcontractors to Applus+ and were not working directly with the state. It argued that using repair shops would be more convenient for people who wanted to go to one place to be tested and have any needed repairs done.

Robert Jambois, chief counsel for the Department of Transportation, said the department may ask the Legislature to change the consumer protection law to make it clearer that the agency could allow testing at repair shops.

He said the agency was rescinding its procurement process because new information from vendors suggested that economic circumstances had changed.

Firm seeks ruling

Jon Axelrod, an attorney for Envirotest, argued that the DOT didn't have just cause to revoke the process. He said he would ask Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Maxine A. White to block the DOT from rescinding the procurement process and to declare Envirotest the winner of the contract.

"The DOT can't take the ball and say, 'Forget it,' after the game's already been played and the winner's been declared," Axelrod said.

He said it wasn't fair to redo the procurement after "they've made our playbook public."

Applus+ President Bill Nicholson said in a statement that he was disappointed with the department's decision.

"Applus+ provided the most comprehensive proposal with the greatest economic benefits for the state of Wisconsin and Wisconsin motorists," he said. "Our proposal incorporated new and innovative technologies that gave Wisconsin motorists the convenient choice of getting their vehicles inspected at private inspection facilities or the same centralized facilities that they are currently familiar with."

SysTech International of Utah also bid on the work, and the company's attorney, Patrick Farley, said the firm likely would do so again.

"We'll sharpen the pencils again if there's a chance to do it again," he said.

The DOT, meanwhile, is arguing that Envirotest's lawsuit should be dismissed because the agency is starting its procurement process over.

A hearing was to be held in the case last week, but it was postponed after the department told the judge that it was restarting the process.

Starting over

The state announced plans to give the contract to Applus+ in May. Envirotest appealed to the Department of Administration, but the DOT later said it was revisiting its process after identifying what it described as minor problems. The agency planned to rescore the existing proposals and asked the bidders to provide additional information.

Jambois said the agency was flooded with new data, which led it to decide it should restart the process from scratch.

"It's almost like it created a new bid," Jambois said.

Although the state is paying Envirotest $918,750 a month until a new contract is awarded, Jambois said the state could renegotiate the amount it pays after July 1, 2009.

The contract must be extended in three-month increments; each three-month delay costs an additional $1.8 million at current rates.

The next contract will cost about a third as much because changes in technology have dramatically reduced the cost of administering the tests.

 

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