The Board of Public Works delayed action yesterday on a proposal to require more participation by minority- and women-owned businesses in private construction projects that receive state funds.
Gov. Martin O'Malley said he supports the idea but is waiting for guidance from the state attorney general's office. Nonetheless, minority business advocates declared victory at yesterday's meeting, saying the attention the board brought to the issue has already produced results from the hospitals, colleges and universities, the primary beneficiaries of the funds.
Leaders of the Maryland Hospital Association, the Maryland Independent Colleges and Universities Association and Loyola College all testified that they are committed to making sure minority- and women-owned businesses get a share of their construction contracts, whether they are supported with state funds or not. They also pledged to work with the board, minority business organizations and the Legislative Black Caucus to further their efforts.
"Let me take my handkerchief out and wipe my tears away because I can't believe what I'm hearing," Wayne R. Frazier Sr., president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association, said during the meeting. "In two weeks, the honorable board has changed the direction in Maryland."
Maryland procurement laws set a goal of 25 percent participation by minority- or women-owned businesses in state contracts, but the law has never been applied to private projects that are partially funded by the state. Maryland has spent $74 million on such projects this year.
Northwest Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Erik G. Wexler told the board that his hospital and others will work to train more minority contractors to do the specialized construction work necessary in health centers.
"We should want to do this," Wexler said.
Comptroller Peter Franchot suggested that even if the state does not adopt a formal requirement, private groups receiving state aid should be asked to detail minority participation on their contracts when they come before the board.
Last month, Franchot and O'Malley were poised to subject private projects that get state money to rules aimed at boosting participation by minority- and women-owned businesses, but delayed a vote after state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp urged more deliberation.
But Arnold Jollivet, another minority business advocate, said he hopes the state will require the private organizations to meet minority contracting goals, whether through legislation or regulation.
"We need to put a policy in place that's rooted in law," he said. "I'm impressed with all they said here today, but they can take it back tomorrow."