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Lawmakers demand answers on lack of diversity in government contracts

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Mattie Hunter

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - A joint committee of state lawmakers highlighted longstanding issues within the state's supplier diversity and business enterprise program Friday. The group emphasized that women and people of color continue to face adversity in government contracting.

Several lawmakers said they've passed laws to help all businesses succeed, but their policies were never implemented. They require state agencies and universities to report how much they spend with minority and women-owned businesses. Under state law, firms receiving tax breaks have to spend at least 20% of their procurement budgets with those vendors. However, lawmakers have constantly seen this portion of the procurement process ignored.

"You all don't do a darn thing. It's like you're thumbing your nose at the legislature and saying to hell with you all," said Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago). "We aren't going to do anything that you tell us what to do. We are going to give contracts out to our own friends, our buddies, and we're going to do whatever we care to do."

Hunter stressed lawmakers will hold state agencies accountable. In fact, she gave the Pritzker administration two months to return to the committee with plans to "clean up the mess."

Meeting the goals

Other lawmakers emphasized equity and diversity should stay a top priority in contracts with state agencies. Former Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne Jr. said the state has an implementation problem spanning well past the Pritzker administration. As a result, he feels the state must stick with key principles to give minority businesses an opportunity to grow.

"Does the contract provide an opportunity to grow revenue? If it doesn't, then it doesn't meet the goals. It doesn't meet the core principles," Clayborne added. "Does this contract provide for the opportunity to increase your capacity? If it doesn't, then it's not meeting the law."

Currently, Black Illinoisans make up 13.8% of the taxpaying population. Still, only 2% of the state's procurement dollars go to Black-owned businesses.

"When it comes to making sure that the minimum 20% is met, waiver processes have been created to avoid making sure that Black people have access to the economics that flow through our state. There's a lot of revenue that flows through our state that's not touching a lot of our communities," said Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood).

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Mike Miletich

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