Leaders of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus said yesterday that they will seek to extend the life of a program that sets aside a portion of state contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses.
The announcement came two days after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said at a public meeting that the program “needs to end.” Later in the meeting, Ehrlich expanded on the remark, acknowledging discrimination in the past and saying the state’s “collective goal” is to end the Minority Business Enterprise program “at a certain point in time.”
The governor’s comments, and similar ones made at the same meeting by Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D), set off a wave of criticism from Democratic lawmakers, who lambasted the governor and Schaefer for what they called insensitivity to the plight of minority-owned businesses.
“If this problem is not checked today, then tomorrow there will be no MBE program,” Del. Rudolph C. Cane (D-Wicomico), chairman of the caucus, told reporters yesterday. “Our future has to be protected.”
Flanked by the General Assembly’s top Democratic leaders, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), Cane said the black caucus will submit legislation to extend the set-aside program until 2012.
Under current law, the program is set to expire next year. It has been extended several times since its inception in 1978.
The goal of the program, under 2001 legislation, is to award 25 percent of state contracts to minority- or women-owned businesses.