House panel votes 12% goal for minority participation in state contracts

March 23, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

A divided House committee rejected yesterday Gov. Parris N. Glendening's bid to nearly double the state goal for participation by minority-owned firms in state contracts.

Instead, the Commerce and Government Matters Committee voted for a much more modest change, moving to the House floor a bill that would change the state's minimum goal for minority firm participation to 12 percent from 10 percent.

Mr. Glendening had sought an increase to 18 percent. Administration lobbyists and other supporters of the governor's proposal say anything less than 18 percent will render the state's Minority Business Enterprise program vulnerable to legal challenge. "The number 18 is the most legally defensible" based on a study conducted by the state last year, said Richard Montgomery, a lobbyist for the governor.

The state Senate is considering a companion bill that goes along with the governor's 18 percent proposal. Committees in both houses stripped from the governor's bill a provision to establish separate subgoals for white women and other minorities for construction contracts only.

The House committee, however, took a much more conservative stance than its Senate counterpart. The delegates nearly voted to leave the goal at the current 10 percent, and solidly rejected a proposal to raise it to 14 percent.

Del. John S. Morgan, a Republican from Laurel, complained that the state study is flawed. He and other Republicans said contractors already find complying with the current minority program too difficult.

Moreover, he said, raising the goal would not help minority firms as much as providing them with loans, helping with cash flow, or making it easier to obtain bonds.

To answer at least one of those complaints, the committee voted raise to $100,000 from $50,000 the minimum size of a contract for which a contractor must buy a bid or performance bond. Although the change would apply to all firms, the purpose is to give undercapitalized, minority-owned firms a larger selection of possible contracts without the expense of obtaining bonds.

Backers of the governor's bill said all that minority firms want is a fair chance to compete, something they say the study proves they have been denied.

"We do have a problem," said Joanne C. Benson, a Democratic committee member from Prince George's County who also chairs the Legislative Black Caucus. "If we felt that the opportunities to compete were fair and just, we wouldn't be so in favor of this bill."

Backers of the bill said they were disappointed by the committee's action, and hoped that the Senate bill's higher goal will prevail once the two versions are passed by their respective houses and sent to a joint conference committee. "Twelve percent will be the same as 10 percent," Ms. Benson predicted. "White female [contractors] will get the bulk of the work, and African-Americans and other minorities will not get the share they rightly deserve."

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