Lower goal for set-aside is hinted

House speaker says 25% may be too high to win panel's OK

March 08, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said yesterday that supporters of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposal to increase the state's minority contracting goal to 25 percent might have to compromise to get the bill out of committee.

Taylor, a backer of the governor's bill, said that he has not given up on winning approval of the 25 percent goal, but that he wouldn't be surprised if the number were "slightly reduced" to win over a few swing votes in the Commerce and Government Matters Committee.

"I have heard a number in the range of 21 or 22 [percent]," the speaker said in an interview. The state's current goal, which has been in place since 1995, is 14 percent.

Taylor emphasized that he still prefers the 25 percent figure and has not given up on getting it. But he signaled that he would not view a lower compromise figure as a defeat.

"When you realize you're taking the law from 14 to 21 or 22, you're taking a major jump," he said.

The minority business bill is one of Glendening's top priorities for the 2001 session. He dedicated a long passage of his State of the State address to the topic and has been meeting with legislators to push for passage of the bill in an undiluted form.

The bill has been held up in the conservative-leaning House panel since its Feb. 8 hearing. Meanwhile, a companion bill has passed a Senate committee and will come to the floor today with the 25 percent goal intact.

The House committee held a working session last night to consider amendments, but did not reach any final decision on the bill.

Taylor, who had predicted last week that the panel would approve the measure, expects it to do so this week.

The 25 percent goal is based on the results of a state-sponsored study that put the availability of minority contractors in the marketplace at 27 percent.

The bill also would "carve out" goals of 7 percent for African-American contractors and 10 percent for women-owned businesses - figures that are also based on the study.

Michael Morill, a Glendening spokesman, said he sees no reason to back off the 25 percent goal.

"These are not numbers made up out of thin air," he said. "We have submitted numbers we feel are appropriate and the evidence to support that they are appropriate."

Anybody suggesting a lower number should be prepared to justify it, he said.

"If legislators are proposing numbers that are less than the administration's, we expect they would provide clear and compelling reasons why we would ever consider doing less than the best we can," he said.

Del. Talmadge Branch, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the group would get an update on the legislation this morning from Del. John F. Wood Jr., the St. Mary's County Democrat who chairs the government matters committee.

Branch said the caucus was still holding firm on the 25 percent and that he saw no rationale for going lower.

But the Baltimore Democrat said he'd rather see the bill pass with a lower goal than be defeated.

Morrill said the governor has been working actively to line up votes for the 25 percent goal, which has the strong support of the women's and black caucuses.

Arnold M. Jollivet, president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association, said the governor was working hard for the bill. The governor had assured him as recently as Tuesday that he and his supporters were "calling their chits in" to win support, Jollivet said.

William W. Herold, president of the Baltimore Metro chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, said his group isn't lobbying for a lower goal. He said the builders still believe the bill should be put on hold and studied over the summer.

"We don't think you just arbitrarily raise the bar," he said. "I don't think there's a magic number."

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