Quotas for Contractors
City of Milwaukee Ordinance 370, which became effective this past January, establishes minimum quotas for minority contractors bidding on city public works. For example, for construction services 25% of contracting dollars are set aside for specific groups of contractors, including 12.05% for small businesses, 7.31% for women-owned enterprises, 5.57% for African-Americans, and .07 of one percent for Asian-Americans. (1)
But there is no quota for Hispanic businesses. Yesterday the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin (HCCW) filed a suit in Milwaukee County Circuit to invalidate the Ordinance. City officials claim that Hispanic contractors have been so successful in winning city contracts that no special set-aside provision was needed for them. In a survey of contractors for the city, about 7% of respondents claimed that the city had discriminated against them on the basis of race. The suit contends that the city has no compelling interest that would justify instituting a race-based quota system.
I suspect that if Ordinance 370 had included a generous quota for Hispanic-owned businesses, the HCCW would not have sued, but the suit does not say so. My own preference is that the city accept the lowest bid received from a qualified contractor, regardless of the race, ethnicity or gender of the owner. If the city accepts a higher bid in order to meet a quota, the taxpayers are paying the difference for the questionable privilege of having the work done by a firm owned by one of the preferred groups. As a city taxpayer (for two properties), I would rather have the low bid accepted. But that view, which prevailed for the first one hundred and fifty years of the city's existence, is no longer "politically correct."
Some "affirmative action" quotas are justified as compensating disadvantaged groups for past discrimination. Although I agree that many minority and female contractors have experienced discrimination during their professional lives, there is no evidence that the City of Milwaukee has discriminated against anyone in accepting the low bid for city contracts.(2) The city should not be responsible for compensating people for the past acts of banks or other businesses. Previous immigrant groups such as Jews, Italians and even Irish have all suffered discrimination in the past, but have achieved parity in the contracting field without the benefit of any quotas.
My fearless forecast is that the city will settle the HCCW suit by amending the Ordinance to provide a quota for Hispanic contractors.
Gerald S Glazer
(1) "Hispanic group challenges minority hiring ordinance," in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 2, 2012, page 3B.
(2) I worked on evaluating bids for repair of scattered-site public housing units at the Department of City Development from 1992 through early 1994, and saw no evidence of discrimination.