A New York construction industry advisory group, created under a law Gov. Kathy Hochul signed in December, will study and recommend adjustments to state public contracting to address damages incurred by contractors, subcontractors and others because of payment delays on public projects.

The advisors also will review the state finance law’s definition of “substantial completion;” issues in public works contracting affecting minority- and woman-owned firms; and retainage in contracts.

The law sets the advisory council at 21 members—including three representing general contractors, three construction subcontractors, three representing worker trade councils, two representing minority- and women-owned business contractors, and the rest recommended by various state officials and agencies.

State Sen. Leroy Comrie, D-Queens, who introduced the legislation, and Rep. Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, D-Brooklyn, also introduced another bill this month to increase the council to 23, adding a member representing service-disabled veteran businesses, and to specify that it is only a temporary group.

The law gives Hochul 60 days to appoint council members, who then have one year to issue a report on its findings and recommended legislation, regulatory action or altered best practices.

Comrie says the goal is to address problems in the public contracting process related to project payment reimbursement and even the way jobs are procured—resulting from feedback he’s received from industry participants..

“There have been a lot of problems with all aspects of the contracting process in terms of payment, reimbursement and actually even the way that jobs are promulgated,” he says.

So far, the plan has drawn support from both industry trade groups and workers who say they hope to work with the advisory council to improve public contracting. 

“The advisory council established by this legislation helps create a more fair and equitable environment for public works contractors, which in turn helps ensure that only responsible contractors who respect the dignity of workers lead essential public works projects,” Gary LaBarbera, president of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council, said in a statement.

New York’s current public contracting laws are “some of the most convoluted and archaic of any state in the country " said Brian Sampson, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors' Empire State Chapter,

“They make it almost impossible for contractors, regardless of their size or affiliation, to comply,” he said. “It dissuades small contractors, in particular, minority- and women-owned business enterprise firms from looking at public work as a viable option to grow their business.”

Sampson added that the council needs to ensure that both union and non-union workers “get to reap the benefit of higher prevailing wages.”

New York City officials have reported some improvements in the capital projects process thanks to adoption of a design-build approach following 2019’s New York City Public Works Investment Act. Then-Mayor Bill de Blasio said in November that the design-build process had shaved two years off a project to build a new recreation center in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. But there’s still room for improvement in the public contracting process in the city and across the state, Comrie says.

“It’s gotten better with design-build implementation over the last couple of years, but there’s still a lot of problems with the validity and synchronization of jobs from the beginning to end of projects, especially when it comes to the assigning of work and the tracking of work and the payment for work,” he says.