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Opinion | Californians, Vote Yes on Prop 16

Women and minority business owners also suffered the effects of Proposition 209. Before the measure passed, the state awarded nearly a quarter of its public contracts under its program for “minority- and women-owned business enterprises.” That program has since been disbanded, costing those businesses some $825 million a year, according to a study from the Equal Justice Society, an Oakland-based nonprofit.

Before Proposition 209, the University of California system put 10 percent of its spending toward Black, Latino and Asian-owned companies. As of 2019, that number had fallen below 3 percent. The university system’s report on Proposition 209 concluded that “the implications for U.C.’s diverse suppliers were acute.” San Francisco and San Jose have also disbanded affirmative action programs for minority- and women-owned businesses.

California is the world’s fifth-largest economy, and the question of which business owners get access to the state government’s more than 600,000 yearly private contracts is no small matter. With Black and Latino communities hurting financially, and women dropping out of the work force at record rates, it’s a particularly urgent moment to consider racial and gender disparities in business opportunities.

Proposition 16 has its supporters: the governor, Senator Kamala Harris, top public university officials. It has raised more than $16 million, compared with $1 million countering the measure. Yet it continues to lag in the polls, with just 31 percent of California voters saying they support the measure and 22 percent undecided.

Despite what some opponents of the measure say, the facts are clear: Prop 16’s passage would not instate racial or gender quotas, which have been illegal since 1978. It also would not add new language to the state’s legal code. Instead, it would erase the language added 24 years ago: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

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