The state transportation board on Thursday voted unanimously to do more to help minority-owned businesses take part in road and bridge construction projects.
Georgia Department of Transportation already has a program to assist minority-owned businesses in securing federally funded contracts, called the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program. The new program would mimic the federal DBE program, but it would apply to state-funded transportation contracts.
State funding for transportation will nearly double once a transportation bill (HB 170) approved this year by Georgia lawmakers takes effect.
The new legislation is expected to bring an additional $872 million in state funds for transportation in Fiscal Year 2016, and increase to about $1.2 million by 2020.
Currently less than 3 percent of state transportation funding goes to companies owned by African-Americans.
An improved commitment to using minority contractors was sought by Democratic state lawmakers in exchange for their support for HB 170. Additional provisions to encourage minority-owned business participation became a crucial bargaining chip for House and Senate leadership once it was clear that a faction of Republicans would oppose HB 170 because it raised taxes on gasoline by about 6 cents per gallon and imposed a new $5-per-night fee on hotel/motel stays.
“We made it clear we were very serious that some consideration for (Disadvantaged Business Enterprises) had to occur in order for Democrats to support it,” said Senate Minority Whip Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta. “So it was very important, and this is a good first step. It’s not the end, just the beginning of the process we hope will result in more fairness for minority contractors.”
GDOT has also contracted with Atlanta-based consulting firm Griffin & Strong to perform a disparity study, mandated every three years by the federal government, to look at existing minority-owned business participation.