NEW YORK (TIP): The de Blasio administration, looking to increase the amount of business it does with firms run by minorities and women over the next decade, is seeking legislative changes in Albany it believes would help achieve its goal.
City Hall is seeking sponsors in the Capitol for a bill that would amend three state laws related to what are formally known as Minority and Women Business Enterprises or M/WBEs, Maya Wiley, the mayor’s counsel, said in an interview this week.
The first amendment would allow the city to mirror the state in avoiding traditional competitive bids for purchase contracts worth up to $200,000. Currently the city’s ceiling on that regulation is $20,000 in some cases; $100,000 in others, Wiley said.
“We want that same flexibility,” she added.
Another change would enable the city to count contracts with M/WBEs toward a weighted system known as
“best value” for purchase contracts. State law currently allows for a specific value to be placed on M/WBE contracts when government is considering its options, but the measure does not extend to New York City, Wiley said.
She also said she would like to expand the categories in the “best value” program to include construction projects down the road, but that would be a heavier political lift because the state has stringent bid rules surrounding such contracts.
The third amendment would establish a mentorship program for city agencies to assist these companies and lift certain financial restrictions that could block them from getting city business. The program would help businesses get on pre-qualification lists.
“One of the main reasons M/WBEs tend to fall out of business is they’re not capitalized enough to have, to be able to take months and months and months to get paid on contracts and not know where the next book of contracts is coming from,” Wiley said.
While she said it is difficult to assign an estimated value to each of these his own office.
Wiley said they would help the city in its long-term goal of awarding$16 billion to M/WBEs by 2015-a significant haul from the $690 million it granted to such companies in Fiscal Year 2014. (Projected figures for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, were not yet available.)
“If we’re going to both grow the city and grow it in a resilient, sustainable way, women and minority enterprises have to be part of the equation,” Wiley added.
During F.Y. 2014, which included the last six months of then-mayor Michael Bloomberg and the first six months of the de Blasio administration, the city increased its overall awards to M/WBEs by 57 percent, but the overall figure is still paltry and has been the subject of criticism for the mayor.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer last year issued a report calling for an overhaul of the program and assigning poor letter grades to most city agencies, including his own office. (He gave City Hall an overall “D” for the program.)
And last month, longtime de Blasio ally Bertha Lewis slammed the administration for only contributing 4 percent of its overall contracts to M/WBEs. Setting an award goal of 30 percent, which Lewis called for, would be unconstitutional, city officials have said.
“In a city that is majority minority, to have minority- and women-owned businesses scrap and beg for 4 percent of city contracts, it’s a little bit disgraceful,” Lewis, founder of the Black Institute, said at a rally outside City Hall in April.
The prospects of any legislative change in Albany is complex for the de Blasio administration.
As Wiley pointed out, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, is likely to support such changes.
But the G.O.P.-led State Senate will be less inclined to help, given the majority conference’s hostile relationship with the mayor, who tried unsuccessfully last year to help Democrats win control of the body.
Albany is also in disarray, with both legislative bodies grappling with the recent ousters of their respective long-term leaders who were charged in separate corruption scandals.
And Governor Andrew Cuomo is always a wild card for de Blasio, even in less tense moments between the erstwhile allies than the current one.
“So the good news is that the speaker of the Assembly obviously cares about M/WBE quite a bit so at least we know there’s leadership that supports getting awards up in general,” Wiley said when asked about City Hall’s political prospects.
“The governor is committed to M/WBE and has obviously set aggressive goals for the state,” she added.
The city is spending $1 million on a year-long study to evaluate ways to increase its business with M/WBEs.
In addition, Wiley wants to expand the pool of M/WBEs certified with the city from the current total of approximately 3,600. That figure does not include companies only certified with the state, even if the city contracts with them.