- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2001

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, hoping to stem racial "discrimination" in state contracting, last week proposed a plan to give minority-owned companies greater access to state business.

"We must do more to foster and support small and minority businesses," Mr. Glendening said during his State of the State address Wednesday.

He said the state's current goal of 14 percent minority participation in state contracts was too small.

"We will lift our goal to 25 percent. This increase will help benefit all groups that have suffered discrimination," the governor said.

The proposal must be approved by the Maryland legislature by the end of its session in April. Business groups say they will oppose the initiative, claiming it would be too difficult to carry out.

State agencies and departments are encouraged to hire minority contractors when seeking bids. The state now sets as a goal of 14 percent of its business to be conducted with minorities.

Associated General Contractors is one business group lining up against the proposal. AGS spokesman Dennis Day says large contractors will be compelled to spend too much time recruiting minority subcontractors under the plan.

"It's difficult to reach some of the goals," he says.

Mr. Glendening, hoping to boost support for his initiative, cited a state-sponsored study that revealed while 26.9 percent of Maryland contracting businesses are minority owned, only 17 percent are winning contracts with the state.

"We have a population that is more than a third minority," says Mike Morrill, spokesman for Mr. Glendening. "So what [the governor] is saying is that all things being equal, minorities' companies should get the business, so that the rate of contracting would be the same as the availability."

Although the 17 percent minority contractors is higher than the state's targeted 14 percent, there is still a need to "encourage them to get into contracting," says Mr. Morrill.

"So [as a state department or agency] if you weren't meeting the 14 percent target, you should go out there and recruit minority contractors so that they can bid," he adds.

But contractor groups like the Alexandria-based AGC, which has 35,000 construction company members, don't plan to make it easy for the governor's proposal to pass.

"It will be an uphill battle not only in the legislature but in the courts as well," says Mr. Day. "I don't know if the [AGC] itself is fighting it. But I'd imagine there would be some battles in the legislature in order not to get the proposal to pass."

Confident that fighting the proposal won't be too difficult, he says that AGC has won court cases against set-aside programs, which reserve a certain percentage of contracts for minority businesses.

But Mr. Morrill argues Maryland's program is not a set-aside, but an encouragement tool. When contractors can't find qualified minority subcontractors, they are given waivers, he says.

Mr. Glendening in his speech last week said special attention will be paid to black-owned businesses, because the study found that blacks face the most discrimination.

Tina Golivet, director at the Governor's Office of Minority Affairs, believes the legislation will be approved.

"We have the support of the Black Caucus and are trying to garner support from the Women's Caucus as well," she says. "We have statistical data to support such an increase."

Harry Alford, president of the D.C.-based Black Chamber of Commerce, is also confident the bill will pass.

"I think the Assembly of Maryland is friendly on this issue," he says. "There is no quota, nothing rigid in this it's a benchmark we ought to work for."

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