GOP Points to Flaws in New York’s MWBE Law

Female architect in a hardhat at computer

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law an expansion of New York State’s MWBE program, a move that won praise from both sides of the political aisle. But despite widespread approval, some legislators are complaining that the law has some significant flaws, and implementation is far from ideal. 

One such critic is GOP Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, who claims that, for women, too many barriers to certification still exist. Speaking to the Post Journal, he cited several examples of women-owned businesses that were denied certification because the business owner’s husband was an employee of the firm. Calling MWBE administrators “openly sexist,” he said, “They start out with this presumption that if it’s a husband and wife team it can’t possibly be MWBE. And that is absolutely baloney.” 

“The wife runs the company. The husband is the director of sales,” Goodell went on. “She is on the plant floor. She knows what’s going on. She signed all of the documents…but because her husband is involved, there is apparently some unwritten presumption that she’s not running the program.” 

Nor was Goodell the only legislator to speak out against the revised MWBE law. While agreeing that the goals of the program are laudable, GOP Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh argued that women had to jump through too many hoops to become MWBE certified — hoops that typically don’t exist for men. Citing an example of a woman who acquired a 51 percent interest in a business started by her two brothers, she called the process “like death by 1,000 paper cuts.” 

“It took over two years and she was ultimately denied, “ she said. The woman was asked to complete more and more paperwork, and each time administrators came back for more. “As Assemblyman Goodell said earlier, sometimes there is an assumption that if you’re in a male-dominated business and have a partner who happens to be male, you can’t possibly be the one doing the work.”

Bidding Credits A Concern

In addition to the gender disparity around access to certification, Goodell also criticized a provision in the law that increased the number of bidding credits available to MWBEs. The revised law allows for bidding credits for prime contractors bidding on small construction projects valued at up to $1.4 million and increases the size of contracts that can include bidding credits based on inflation each year. Practically speaking, this means that MWBEs can bid up to 10 percent higher than the lowest non-MWBE bidder and still win a contract. 

“If we’re all focusing on the best interests of the taxpayer, we should require that we go with the lowest responsible bid,” Goodell said. 

Several GOP lawmakers also spoke out against the law’s aspirational participation goal of 30 percent — a sticking point for many contractors who claim they can’t find qualified MWBEs. In an exchange on the Assembly floor with the bill’s sponsor Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, Assemblyman Christopher Friend, (R-Big Flats) pointed out that over 93 percent of waivers requested by contractors were granted in 2018, a fact that supports his belief that the goal is unrealistic. Bichotte responded that the waiver process would be more transparent under the new MWBE law, so legislators would have more information with which to revise program goals as necessary.

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