Phoenix's debate is brewing in Arizona over a voter initiative aimed at ending racial and gender preferences in government employment, contracting, and at universities. Opponents of the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative say there are no preference programs in Arizona to end and the initiative is a solution in search of a problem.
The Goldwater Institute investigated this question and found more than three dozen gender and racial preference programs currently being used by various levels of government. A policy brief issued today, Dividing Line: Racial Preferences in Arizona, provides a list of preferences employed by the states three public universities, in K-12 education, and government contracting and employment. The brief was researched and written by Clint Bolick, director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation, and John Robb, a former Goldwater Institute Ronald Reagan Fellow.
While many of the preference program descriptions are vague about the extent to which race or gender will be the determining factor for selection, some are not. For example, the Arizona Board of Regents hiring procedure has clear preferences: Between equally qualified candidates, preference shall be given to candidates whose hire will help correct under utilization as identified in university affirmative action plans.
Government contracting preference programs are equally direct. Programs like the City of Phoenix's Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Certification Program provide contracting advantages to businesses that are at least 51 percent owned by women or minorities. If companies qualify for this certification, they are automatically awarded a 2.5 percent bid incentive on contracts ranging between $250,000 and $500,000. This incentive allows their bid to be up to 2.5 percent higher than competing bids and remain in consideration. Under those circumstances Phoenix taxpayers could pay $6,250 to $12,500 more for a service. Tucson's preference-based contracting system allows for even higher bid incentives, between five and seven percent based on the size of the contract. Phoenix can also reserve contracts that are only open to these certified businesses.
The list of preferences identified in Dividing Line in far from comprehensive; it was pulled together by a cursory search of government agency and university program descriptions publicly available on the Internet. The list does, however, begin to answer questions about the use and pervasiveness of racial and gender preferences in Arizona.
Clint Bolick contends that government-sanctioned preference programs are not appropriate, Only when the superficial, cosmetic, and corrosive quick-fix of racial preferences is removed from the realm of permissible policy will government take the steps necessary to ensure truly equal opportunity.
Dividing Line: Racial Preferences in Arizona is available online or by calling (602) 462-5000.
The Goldwater Institute is an independent public policy research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.