Bill Would Eliminate NCDOT’s Minority Contract Goals

Wed July 06, 2005 - Southeast Edition

RALEIGH, NC (AP) Some state lawmakers say court challenges mean they must dismantle a program that sets aside a percentage of construction projects for minority contractors in order to maintain even so-called “aspirational” goals.

But the minority contractors say they will lose business — and possibly go out of business — if the state does away with the mandatory goals.

Hazel Holmes, who owns a trucking company in Charlotte, said most of the construction companies that hire him to haul asphalt, dirt, stone and other materials are white-owned.

Without the current percentage goals, Holmes fears some of those companies will no longer work with him.

“They’ll use their buddies and forget about us,” Holmes said.

A Senate bill would eliminate overall goals of 10 percent participation for businesses owned by minorities and 5 percent for businesses owned by women in contracts awarded by DOT.

Instead, the bill calls for the department to establish annual aspirational goals, not mandatory goals, based on the needs of specific projects and availability of minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

“The current goals are not based on a realistic assessment of project needs and contractor availability,” said Ashley Memory, a spokeswoman for the state Transportation Department, which helped draft the proposal. “Being able to set these goals based on what we know about the projects and contractors would be more realistic.”

Sen. Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg, the primary sponsor of the bill, said courts have dismantled programs similar to DOT’s in other parts of the country and could do the same here unless changes are made.

“If we don’t have anything, the state really doesn’t have to do anything and prime contractors won’t be encouraged to bring on minority participation,” Dannelly said.

Atlanta-based Southeastern Legal Foundation has sued the state DOT on behalf of a white-owned Surry County contractor. Previously, the foundation sued Charlotte, prompting the city to end its Minority and Women Business Development Program in 2002.

“There have been real people harmed in real ways by implementing the DOT set-aside program,” said Todd Young, the foundation’s policy director.

Minority contractor associations are fighting the proposal, including the Metrolina Minority Contractors Association. John Wall, the group’s president, said there will be no incentive to include minority-owned businesses in DOT contracts if the percentage goals are removed.

“To me, a goal of zero is unacceptable,” Wall said.