`Buy American' proposal for state.
WORCESTER - A group of Central Massachusetts lawmakers are getting behind a "buy American" proposal from the Worcester Housing Authority to change a state law to allow the housing agency to give a preference to domestic goods and materials it buys.
Executive Director Raymond V. Mariano said the agency spends $10 million to $12 million annually on appliances, apartment fixtures and building materials, and the proposed policy would allow that business to go to American firms.
By procuring goods and services made in America, Mr. Mariano said, the agency will be investing in the very businesses and citizens that produce primarily state and federal tax dollars that pay for local public housing operations and promote job growth.
"While buying and giving a preference to American-made products makes sense to most people, it is expressly prohibited by state law, which requires that most bids be awarded to the lowest bidder," Mr. Mariano said. "If we want to give preference to American products, we need the help of our legislators."
Mr. Mariano said the agency has had practice with a similar policy attached to federal economic stimulus funds, which allowed a similar preference to purchase of domestic goods and services with those funds. To do so with regular state and federal funding, state law would have to provide exceptions to bidding rules that require contracts be awarded to lowest-cost bidders.
"The truth of the matter is this is an enormous amount of additional work for us to go through to put all the pieces in place. But we want to do it because of the entire conversation we have had in this country over losing manufacturing jobs. I think it's important we do whatever we can to strengthen our own country," Mr. Mariano said.
If it can be done at the Worcester agency, it could be copied elsewhere, he said.
"It's also our responsibility as Americans to help our country. If every government agency did this, it would create tens of thousands of new jobs in the manufacturing sector," he said.
Legislation to specifically allow the Worcester Housing Authority to adopt a detailed American purchase preference policy has been drafted and will be filed by Worcester-area lawmakers for the legislative session that begins in January.
Mr. Mariano said the local policy is fashioned after the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The proposal sets four specific exceptions for when the WHA executive director can, at his discretion, allow materials and services be purchased from a foreign source. They are:
When the items are not produced in the United States in sufficient and reasonably available quantities and satisfactory quality;
When the items are not available in a required time frame;
When inclusion of those items will increase the cost of a purchase or project by more than 20 percent;
And, when no provider of an American made product submits a qualifying bid.
State Rep. John Mahoney, D-Worcester, said the initiative is worthwhile, at least as a pilot program, although he hopes the higher costs of shipping materials internationally and improved manufacturing in the U.S. could reduce imports in the long run.
The bill is co-sponsored by state Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee; Sen. Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester; Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury; Rep. John J. Binienda, D-Worcester; Rep. John P. Fresolo, D-Worcester; Rep. James J. O'Day, D-West Boylston; Rep. Dennis A. Rosa, D-Leominster; and Rep. Todd M. Smola, R-Palmer.