Alexandria's Democrat Mayor Jacques Roy is advocating mandates to government procedures to increase the number of minority/disadvantaged contractors participating in city business. But before anything is done, policy-makers there need to review the results of Shreveport's disastrous Fair Share program.
This fiasco, created by Democrat then-Mayor Keith Hightower, was in the news this summer when some members of the City Council bitterly complained about how the contractor for the delayed Convention Center hotel appeared not to live up to the program’s standards. Its purpose is to set numerical targets of “disadvantaged” – defined as majority non-white and female-owned – businesses in receiving contract work from the city. For this project, the general contractor Walton Construction said it would adhere to a 25 percent goal of subcontracting – not in the contract itself, but in an addendum agreed after signing of the original contract.
Turns out Walton may or may not have achieved that. Maybe, because they insist they got just about there with their final computations. Maybe not, because only days, even weeks before reporting of the final numbers, they appeared far short of the goal and it seems impossible that there was enough work left that, even if quickly subcontracted out, it could bring the aggregate to the latest “official” figure.
This has gotten particularly Calvin Lester and Joe Shyne, black Democrats on the Council, aggravated, and in the ensuing argument about whether the city should sue Walton, or whether it even has legal authority to do so, distracts from the central issue at hand: the concept of Fair Share is absolutely ludicrous, built on false premises, and should be dismantled immediately before it wastes any more taxpayer dollars.
Hightower conjured up the thing in order to get the likes of Shyne to support the idea of building a convention center and hotel – which needed every vote they could get from the Council to become unfortunate realities. It rests on the unsustainable argument that there is some sort of discrimination against these “disadvantaged” enterprises which is why set-asides get deemed necessary. Because discrimination structurally cannot be proved to exist, legally the city could not force the contractor to set aside the agreed-upon 25 percent, it just promised to do so, with the legal power of that promise uncertain.
(Legally, a “disparity study” must be undertaken to show that a governing entity’s rules specifically discriminate against a certain group, before a quota-based set-aside legally can be enacted. These exercises are rife for abuse, because many political demagogues will assert that any discovered numerical difference demonstrates this – instead of undertaking a detailed examination of the actual procedures and history involved. Hightower prevented any quantitative disparity study ever from going forward.)
In other words, Fair Share was supposed throw business to “disadvantaged” firms they otherwise wouldn’t get for reasons of illegality or because of past discrimination that made them less able to compete in the present. But as Walton has argued concerning its initially-released lower numbers, many factors determine the disadvantaged participation proportion. For example, few non-white majority-owned firms that can do a significant portion of the work exist, even fewer within the metropolitan area. In terms of share of the market, it’s practically impossible to find enough of these firms capable to do 25 percent of the business. And it is impossible to argue that such a paucity of eligible firms is primarily, or even partly, due to discrimination.
As a result, Fair Share does little to help its intended beneficiaries and at higher cost to taxpayers. Because of the scarcity of local qualifying firms able and willing to do the jobs, much of the work under the program goes to out of town firms. What also sometimes happens for actual local winners under the program is they are shell organizations with non-whites or women listed as owners, but who really are directed by others. Even in the instance where a genuine qualifying, local firm can be found by the contractor, because capable ones are so far and few between prices get inflated as the subcontractor knows it can command a premium since the contractor is looking to hit the target number and will pay top dollar to do so.
Shreveport has wasted enough money on the convention center and its hotel. It shouldn’t waste any more by engaging in questionable lawsuits about Fair Share’s past, and termination of the program now should prevent this waste of money in the future. That's a lesson Alexandria needs to draw before it makes the same mistake.
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