CHICAGO -- An Illinois legislative task force last week recommended that state contracts for bond-related work and other legal and professional services costing more than $25,000 be subject to a competitive selection process.

The recommendation would affect services procured by state constitutional officers, the legislature, the judiciary, higher education institutions, and the executive branch.

The executive branch includes the state Bureau of the Budget, which issues "Build Illinois" sales tax revenue bonds, refunding and civic center revenue bonds, and college saver general obligation bonds. Under state law, other long-term or short-term GO debt issues must be sold on a competitive basis. Debt issued by colleges and universities could also be included in the task force's recommendation.

The recommendation on competitive bidding was one of 82 points in the report on reforming state purchasing procedures. The report is expected to be distributed to state law-makers this week. State officials said that legislation to implement the recommendations of the report is scheduled to be introduced during the 1994 session.

State Sen. Penny Severns, D-Decatur, said that enacting the task force's recommendations would be a major accomplishment for the state. Severns, a member of the task force, was a primary sponsor of the measure that created the panel.

"What we have in this document is light years ahead of where we are today," Severns said. Passage of the report would show that "competitive bidding is the preferred method of procurement in Illinois," she said.

In the 1993 legislative session, numerous reform proposals were introduced, but failed to pass.

Bill Ghesquiere, deputy counsel to Gov. Jim Edgar, said the Edgar administration expects to review the task force's recommendations this week after receiving a formal copy of the report. The administration expects the recommendations to resemble a measure that Edgar introduced during the last legislative session, Ghesquiere said.

"The proposals in our bill were clearly common sense approaches to the problem. I'd be very surprised if we find anything radically different," Ghesquiere said.

Under Edgar's measure, the state would set up pre-qualifying procedures for state negotiated deals. The competitive selection requirement in Edgar's plan is similar to the procedure the Edgar administration has used since 1991 in which firms are selected to handle state bond issues for a two-year term through requests for proposals.

The task force report also recommends that :

* Former state employees who were involved in any aspect of procuring state contracts be prohibited from doing business with the state for one year after leaving their positions.

* A policy board be created to set rules for the development of prequalified vendor lists. The board also would be responsible for determining exceptions to the competitive sealed bidding process and alternative selection procedures.

However, the report does not address whether individuals or firms that make campaign contributions should be barred from receiving state contracts.

Severns said that political contibution limitations were not included in the recommendations because they could "torpedo" passafe of the entire task force report. Campaign finance reforms will be addressed in separate legislation next spring, Severns said.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said that Madigan believes that the concept of reforms is "certainly worth" examining. Madigan is reserving judgment on the recommendations until he has formally reviewed them, Brown said.

However, it is clear that "something needs to be done" in the area of state contracting after Edgar approved changes in purchasing regulations last year, Brown said.

Lawmakers formed the task force late last year after the state purchasing laws were changed at the end of the 1992 legislative session. Some critics said that the changes, which included revising the threshold for obtaining competitive bids, eliminated safeguards against abuse, according to state officials.

Tracy Litsey, executive director of Illinois Common Cause, a government watchdog group, said that the group is very pleased with the recommendations.

"In general, it creates a more level playing field for competitively bid contracts. It brings the realm of state contracts outside a tightly knit group of Springfield insiders," Litsey said.

She also said Common Cause is concerned that lawmakers could "take scalpels and red pencils" and remove key parts of the package after the plan is introduced in the legislature.

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