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MWBE bill is in effect; lobbyists and politicians explain significance

Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 5:29 p.m.

"Because of the legislation we will sign today, that won't happen on my watch or after my watch." That's what New York State Gov. David Paterson said in late July inside the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building. [[ED: CLARIFY PREV. QUOTE?]] "Today, we will sign legislation that will fundamentally change the way the state does business and with whom the state does business."

Paterson was announcing and signing several pieces of legislation that would change the collective state of minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBE) in New York and give them a fair shot at receiving government contracts.

Each bill is designed to help MWBEs win their fair share of contracts and improve New York State's economy. Bill No. 297 (S.8312/A.11525) would raise the cap of discrepancy purchases that a state agency can award to MWBEs from $100,000 to $200,000. It wouldn't be based on completely competitive procurements. Bill No. 298 (S.8313/A.11526) would expand the contracting practices of public authorities, which would grant more opportunities for MWBEs. The bill would also require that procurement guidelines for every public authority include at least one senior staff member to oversee each MWBE program to make sure the guidelines are met.

Bill No. 299 (S.8312/A.11527) includes studies to measure the effectiveness of MWBE programs and the creation of a chief diversity officer position. The last bill, known as the Emerging Investment Managers Bill (S.6888/A.9976), deals with the comptroller, the state insurance fund and the Deferred Compensation Board (aka non-executive agencies that control large pools of money for investment). It will provide, according to Paterson, "emerging investment managers" the ability to invest with MWBE financial institutions.

All four pieces of legislation went into effect last Friday.

Several individuals who played an integral part in the passing of this legislation spoke to the AmNews about its meaning and its future.

"From the council's perspective, this is something that we had been working on for 12 months, but this was an effort that was 30 years in the making and [New York State] Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson and her colleagues had to work several decades to get this done," said Chloe Drew, the executive director of the Council of Urban Professionals. "It's gonna make a difference. We have a new way of doing business, creating jobs and helping people make a living for themselves and help communities."

Jacqueline Williams, a lobbyist at State and Broadway, expressed similar joy over the bill officially kicking in. "I've worked with the giants of Gloria Davis [former New York State assemblywoman from the Bronx] and [New York City Councilman] Al Vann, and it was lovely to see Davis in the building to see it to fruition," she said. "From a government perspective, it was good to see us making progress. If you look at the bill, for 20 years, we had Article 15A on the books and we had this wonderful law, but really there was no enforcement. What these bills do is they take us to the next level."

To understand the significance of this, you have to go no further than what has transpired since the David Dinkins administration in New York City. According to Paterson, when Dinkins took over as mayor in 1990, MWBEs received only 7 percent of New York City procurement. Once Dinkins started the program, however, that percentage went up to 19 percent. That process was reversed by Rudolph Giuliani, and by 2001, MWBE compliance went down to 1 percent.

But, as with all laws, there's an issue of enforcement.

"Now that that's in writing, we gotta put it into action," Thompson said last July. "This may make me unpopular with some people, but we may never have done this without this governor."

Williams echoed similar sentiments.

"This legislation calls for quarterly reporting and you will be able to see the benchmarks of this," Williams said. "We'll be able to make real assessments."

In about four to five years, there will be another study on the disparity of MWBEs compared to white-owned businesses. Until then, Drew will rely on firsthand reports from around the state.

Said Drew, "We're gonna do as much work as we can to keep the [MWBE] coalition alive and hear stories on how this is impacting Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany, all the way down to Westchester and Manhattan."