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Some Minority Contracting Rules Dropped

Government: State board ends earmarking of school construction monies for women- or minority-owned firms.


SACRAMENTO — In swift action, a state board newly controlled by Republicans voted Wednesday to end a requirement that women- and minority-owned businesses receive a piece of California's multibillion-dollar school construction program.

The State Board of Allocation, which distributes state school construction bond money, abolished the requirement in an "emergency" action. That means that the minority and women contracting rules for school construction will end immediately. The board is expected to make the rule permanent later this year.

The action is another example of changes being made throughout state government since the start of the year when Republicans gained control of the lower house for the first time in 25 years. Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle has two appointees to the board.

Assemblyman Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), attending only his second meeting as a board member, pushed the issue to a vote, saying that the action will end quotas and cut the cost of building public schools.

"It doesn't freeze women and minorities out," Brulte said. "It just removes the quotas."

Gov. Pete Wilson's two appointees to the board voted with Brulte, as did Sen. Bill Leonard (R-San Bernardino), who was appointed by the Senate Rules Committee.

Wilson had issued an executive order last year directing that agencies and boards abolish such requirements. An initiative headed for the November ballot would abolish any remaining requirements that the state consider race and gender in its hiring, contracting and university admissions.

The board's decision comes a month before voters statewide head to the polls to decide whether to approve a $3-billion school construction bond, Proposition 203, on the March 26 ballot.

Brulte said that although Wednesday's vote was not timed to coincide with the March election, he predicted that "it will have a positive effect. We'll be able to signal to voters that we will be able to spend their tax money more efficiently."

According to an allocation board analysis, the women and minority contracting requirement meant that some low bidders for school construction jobs were rejected, costing the state $6.4 million, or the equivalent of two elementary schools, since 1991.

Leading the opposition to Brulte's move, Democratic Assemblyman Robert J. Campbell of Martinez, another board member, said that some minority voters might be angered by the action. "Why would I vote for this bond if my people can't bid?" he asked.

Campbell said that even with the requirement, the state never attained its goal of including large numbers of minority- and women-owned firms in state-funded construction projects.

But without the requirement, Campbell warned, "You lose the pressure put upon [general contractors] to bring people into the process. . . . It's going against the grain of involving people."

State schools Supt. Delaine Eastin's representative on the board joined Campbell in voting against the action.

The rule abolished Wednesday had required that when state money was used, contractors bidding for school construction projects needed to allocate at least 15% of the work to minority-owned businesses and 5% to businesses owned by women.

In some instances, the general contractors were minority- and women-owned firms. In many others, women and minorities were subcontractors.

The board adopted the requirement in 1991. Since then, the State Board of Allocation has handed out $3.3 billion in tax money for school construction.

Out of that sum, minority-owned businesses have received contracts worth $307 million, and women-owned businesses have received $427 million in contracts.

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