Set-aside goal called too low

Glendening says minorities deserve larger share of pacts

Legislation sought

Governor wants to raise target from 14% to 25%

January 18, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that he will seek legislation raising the state's goal for minority contracting from 14 percent to 25 percent - a proposal that is expected to face stiff opposition from contractors and conservative lawmakers.

The proposal, which flies in the face of a national trend against affirmative action, also will seek for the first time to ensure that African-Americans generally will receive a share of contracts in proportion to their percentage among the state's minority contractors.

The governor said a recent study of Maryland's minority business program shows the state's current target is too low.

"We can come together and craft a program that is fair to minority businesses and able to withstand the legal challenges that will result," Glendening said in his State of the State address. "I know we are fighting the tide on this issue, but we will keep fighting for what is right."

The governor's initiative quickly drew fire from Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who has repeatedly questioned whether the 14 percent goal was necessary.

"That's going to discourage a lot of businesses from coming to the state," said Schaefer, who has raised the issue at meetings of the Board of Public Works, which approves state contracts.

Glendening's announcement drew ecstatic applause from black lawmakers, but contractors' groups predicted the governor is indeed facing a battle.

Mike Henderson, executive director of the Baltimore chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, a group of nonunion companies, said construction companies are already having trouble complying with the 14 percent goal.

"The record shows that these things are not effective. It's not going to grow a strong corps of minority contractors. It's just going to make Maryland more anti-competitive," Henderson said.

The change in goals, which would give Maryland one of the highest minority participation targets in the country, is based on a state-commissioned study that found that minority business enterprises (MBEs) account for 26.9 percent of the contractors available but receive only 17 percent of state business.

Michael Morrill, a Glendening spokesman, said the administration considered proposing a goal of 26.9 percent but decided to propose 25 percent after consulting with legislators.

The governor said his legislation will give "special attention" to African-Americans, noting that the report by National Economic research Associates found that they faced the most severe discrimination.

A Glendening aide said Tuesday that the extra help will come in the form of specific "carve-outs" from the overall minority business goal.

Morrill said no decision had been made on the goals to be set for various types of minorities but said they would generally reflect the percentage of contractors available in each category.

African-American-owned firms account for 7 percent of the available contractors, Hispanics 2 percent and white women almost 13 percent, the report shows.

The Rev. Chet Howard, who heads a group of about 300 minority contractors in Prince George's County, said he was especially pleased about the proposed carve-out for blacks.

"The record shows we did not get our share of the 14 percent," Howard said. He said the African-American share of transportation projects was 3 percent to 4 percent at most.

Sen. Clarence W. Blount, chairman of the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, said the study showed that many white-owned contractors would not seek out minority subcontractors if there were no goals.

"When left on their own, they revert to not doing anything, which to me is morally wrong and business-wise wrong," the Baltimore Democrat said. "To me it's just plain prejudice and racism."

Maryland's current law sets a statewide goal for minority participation of 14 percent, and the governor has pressed agencies to meet that target. The performance of various agencies varies, but overall the state has exceeded the goal.

Morrill said the law does not set quotas, adding that bidders cannot be excluded from contracts for failing to meet the target.

The law does allow agencies to require prime contractors to sign contracts promising that they will make a good-faith effort to reach a target for minority subcontracting, which can vary by region and the type of procurement.

Companies that can show that they have made a reasonable effort but fallen short of the goals can receive waivers, Morrill said. But many prime contractors say the goals have become de facto quotas.

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House Republican whip, said his party had not had time to consider the governor's proposal but ventured a prediction of the outcome.

"The way the Democratic leadership will deal with it is by cutting a deal and giving him half a loaf," the Howard County lawmaker said.

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