Jim Galloway, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 25, 2015
When–or at this point, if–our Legislature passes a bill that would put an extra $1 billion or so each year into the maintenance of Georgia roads and bridges, certain paving companies would profit accordingly.
If the current pattern holds, 96 percent of those firms will be white-owned. Less than 3 percent of taxpayer dollars spent will make it into the hands of companies owned by African-Americans.
And yet the disparate numbers were front and center in a hearing this week on House Bill 170, the transportation funding bill, hosted by the Georgia Black Legislative Caucus. “They’re an embarrassment. They’re a bad statement to our children,” said Bill Cannon, executive director of the Georgia Black Constructors Association. He noted that African-Americans make up a third of the state’s population and generate 25 percent of the tax base. “My understanding is that Mississippi is doing it better than us.”
A lack of capital and bonding requirements contribute to the problem. But culture plays a role in subcontracting, too, Cannon said.
“There’s a big difference between those folks that are building buildings, and those folks that are building roads. [Road builders] have their own ways of doing business. And their way of doing business does not include a serious commitment toward including minorities, the disadvantaged and women,” he said.
H.B. 170 remains mired in the House Transportation Committee, as Republican lawmakers try to craft a bill that can gain majority support within the House Republican caucus. But ultimately, it is likely that Democratic votes in both the House and Senate will be required for final passage.
Only in the last two weeks has the issue of minority participation in the $1 billion annual spending package bubbled to the surface, surprising Democrats and Republicans alike. “It would be political malpractice not to bring up these numbers,” said state Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, who put the black caucus hearing together.
When dealing with federal dollars, Washington requires states to create programs designed to boost participation by firms owned by minorities and women. It is why the above figures exist. Dukes and other members of the caucus want language inserted into H.B. 170 that would mandate the same when state dollars are involved.
The worry for supporters of H.B. 170 could be found in the abbreviated Tweet by state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, who left the hearing early: “Why would any GLBC member vote for plan when Afr-Am bus is excluded?”
One of the final speakers at Tuesday’s hearing was Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber. Clark quickly agreed to work with black caucus members to strengthen minority participation in state contracting.
“Please help this be a Democrat and Republican solution, an urban and a rural solution,” he pleaded.