ANNAPOLIS — State lawmakers and members of the Board of Public Works Wednesday called for increased efforts to ensure expanded participation in state contracting by minority-owned businesses.
The renewed interest follows Gov. Wes Moore’s campaign promises to view every aspect of state government through a lens of equity. Moore and others said the state is not living up to its own standards when it comes to ensuring small businesses owned by minorities have a fair shot at state contracts.
“Importantly, we will ensure we are treating minority business enterprise goals not just as suggestions for prime contractors but as promises, commitments made to both the state and our MBE communities who simply want a fair shot at competing for and receiving work,” said Moore. “The era of agencies generously issuing MBE waivers and not holding prime contractors accountable for meeting these MBE goals, those days and that era has come to an end.”
Moore was joined by Comptroller Brooke Lierman — both of whom attended their first Board of Public Works meeting as members. The third member of the board is Treasurer Dereck Davis.
“Maryland was a national leader in MBE procurement when we first created our goals 40 years ago but we have fallen far behind,” said Lierman.
Since 2016, the percentage of minority businesses in state contracting has been 20% or less. In 2020 it was 14 %, according to Lierman.
“This is unacceptable,” she said. “We here all know it is unacceptable.”
Lierman also called on the board to audit and track so-called “bait and switch” contracts where a primary contractor vows to hire a certain percentage of minority-owned businesses but later asks the state to lower those percentages.
“Our current MBE program operates on the honor system when it should be operating on an accountability system,” she said.
The issue has also caught the attention of the Legislative Black Caucus, whose membership now accounts for roughly one-third of the General Assembly’s 188 delegates and senators. Among the members of the caucus are House Speaker Adrienne Jones as well as the Senate President Pro Tem and chairs of five of the 10 standing House and Senate Committees.
The caucus Wednesday announced its session priorities, which include improving minority business contracting in the state.
Del. Nick Charles, D-Prince George’s, citing a Maryland Department of Transportation report, said 30% of the state’s businesses are operated by minorities yet comprise only 7% of the state’s contractors.
“This is unacceptable,” Charles said.
The caucus is backing bills that would extend the time to address a study of the state’s minority business and procurement program and a bill that would set state metrics for hiring minority contractors. Another measure would require the Department of General Services to maintain a public list of agencies required to report on the success of awarding contracts to minority-owned businesses.
“As we all are aware, the current economic system has historically and systematically excluded black communities, leading to persistent disparities in wealth and opportunity,” said Charles. “One crucial way to combat this injustice is through the promotion and support of black owned businesses in Maryland. MBEs have played a vital role to the state’s economy, yet they continue to face significant barriers to success.”