BOSTON – A state lawmaker wants schools and other public projects to be built with American steel and domestic materials, arguing that foreign competitors are hurting American manufacturers.
The proposal, tabled by Senator Joan Lovely, D-Salem, would require cities and towns to give preference to American manufacturers when purchasing steel, iron and other materials for new buildings and renovations.
Lovely said manufacturers in Canada and other countries can afford to underbid domestic companies for public construction due to a favorable tax structure.
“The cost of doing business here is higher,” she said. “But every time a contract comes to Canada, no one spends money here. Their workers are putting that money back into their economy, and we are on the losing side.”
Lovely said she heard from domestic steelmakers who no longer bother to bid on public projects because they know they won’t get them.
The “Made in America” restrictions, if approved, would apply to public projects exceeding $ 500,000 for “the reconstruction, alteration, repair, improvement or maintenance of a public building or public works. carried out by a public body ”.
Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said lawmakers need to be careful about putting in place protectionist policies that could limit the availability of labor and materials and affect costs.
Beckwith said procurement rules in many cities and town halls require them to find the “best and lowest bidder” to reduce costs for taxpayers.
He said a “Made in America” policy could also increase costs for the state, which often shares responsibility for building new schools and public buildings.
“Since there is only a limited amount of public money, one wonders if this would delay the projects,” he said. “And delays are often the biggest cost driver for public projects.”
Supporters of the plan, including Lovely, recognize it will likely increase costs, but argue that the benefits are well worth it.
Lovely said the proposal included exceptions for local governments if the new rules increased the cost of a project too much.
An economic analysis of New England steelmakers suggests that such a requirement would increase the cost of school building materials by about 15%, but it also suggested that this would be “overshadowed” by the increase. of national economic activity.
The trade group said taxpayer-funded school projects in Massachusetts save about $ 15 million per year by purchasing steel from foreign manufacturers.
“However, the result of such savings has resulted in a loss of economic activity of over $ 100 million per year and significant damage to our taxable local steel industry,” the group wrote.
The group said that for every dollar spent on domestically made steel, about $ 1.50 was generated in economic activity.
“The pandemic has taught us that purchasing domestic products is essential to our economic health and our overall well-being,” the group said. “Using steel made by taxpayers on taxpayer funded projects also makes economic sense. “
At least 21 states, including Maine and New Hampshire, have laws that require government preference for materials and products made in the United States.
Thirty-eight states have a sourcing preference for state manufacturers, according to the National Association of State Purchasing Officials, a trade group.
Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said buying Americans “is smart policy that supports middle-class jobs and strengthens both the manufacturing sector and our local communities.”
“Policymakers must maximize the means to ensure that taxpayer dollars are reinvested directly into the workers and businesses that make their products in Massachusetts and the United States,” he said.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for newspapers and the North of Boston Media Group websites. Email him at email@example.com