Two members of a legislative task force comprise one of the 11 bidders for a potentially multi-million-dollar contract to run a small business grant program have prompted calls by at least one top Republican lawmaker to drop out because of their role in standing up the program to begin with.
A list of bidders released by Treasurer John Schroder’s office shows a coalition of Jason Decuir and Joel Robideaux among the 11 firms vying for the contract to run the state’s $300 million small business coronavirus relief program. Decuir, a business lobbyist and tax expert, chaired the task force created by legislative leaders that pushed the grant program through the Legislature. Robideaux, a former Lafayette mayor-president and lawmaker, served on the task force as well.
Their bid on the contract to administer the program, first reported by the Baton Rouge Business Report, prompted House Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee, R-Houma, to call on Decuir and Robideaux to withdraw their bid.
“These are people who were deeply involved in setting up the program,” Magee said. “I don’t think they should benefit from it.”
Decuir and Robideaux did not respond to repeated calls over two days seeking comment.
The Legislative Economic Recovery Task Force that Decuir chaired was created by House Speaker Clay Schexnxayder, of Gonzales, and Senate President Page Cortez, of Lafayette, both Republicans, to come up with proposals the GOP-led Legislature could get behind in the wake of the coronavirus.
The small business fund was among them. A Mississippi lawmaker on May 21 gave a presentation to the task force about that state’s program to use $300 million in federal coronavirus aid to give to businesses in the form of grants. That same day, the task force presentation included in its “top priorities” for the second phase of recommendations a proposal to establish a program to provide direct federal coronavirus aid money to businesses.
Also that same day, the House Appropriations Committee agreed to amend a bill to create such a program. The idea would eventually gain wide favor in the Legislature, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed it into law. The bill set aside $300 million originally destined for local government to small businesses.
Schroder, a Republican is now in charge of administering the program. The law gives him the ability to spend up to $15 million doing so, and allows him to hire a private firm to do the work.
It is not clear how much Decuir and Robideaux – or any of the other 10 bidders – stand to make from the deal. Schroder has said he doesn’t want to spend the entire $15 million on administrative costs, and his office has indicated it could hire multiple firms to do different aspects of the work.
Cortez is a close friend and neighbor of Robideaux, and the two served in the House together. Asked Tuesday if he was concerned about their bid, Cortez said he would only be concerned if “the treasurer chose not to choose the most qualified person because of some kind of contention that there (are) nefarious things going on.”
“If you look at the people who submitted the RFQs, there were many that were very qualified,” he said. “I don’t think that anybody should be excluded if they’re qualified.”
Cortez said other bidders on the list that “people in this building know and work with,” which he said happens frequently in the State Capitol.
According to Schroder’s office, 11 bidders met the deadline to submit proposals on the program: Advantage Capital Management Corporation, of New Orleans; AECOM, an L.A.-based engineering giant that has landed other state work in Louisiana; Cabildo Strategy Services LLC and Focus Strategies LLC, run in part by lobbyist Laura Veazey; Deloitte Consulting, one of the big four accounting firms; Hammerman & Gainer, a New Orleans-area firm that has landed other state work, including on the Road Home program; Horne, a Mississippi-based consulting firm; MLCworks, a digital marketing agency based in New Orleans; NewCorp Inc., a New Orleans-based nonprofit; OpenGov, a Silicon Valley tech firm that offers software for governments; and Postlethwaite & Netterville, a well-known Louisiana accounting firm.
Schroder declined to comment on the bidding process until it is over.
Staff writer Tyler Bridges contributed to this report.