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‘Buy American’ bill could end up costing taxpayers

Trade pacts and tariffs have dominated much of the news for the past four years, what with the Trump administration revamping trade agreements with Canada and Mexico and entering into a trade war with punitive tariffs on China.

The United States has long had “Buy American” laws for government purchases and President Donald Trump has issued three executive orders to tighten those laws and change the required ratio for components of purchased products — particularly for iron and steel.

Given that recent history, it was probably not surprising that the Wisconsin Legislature would get in on the action — and sure enough, state Rep. Tip McGuire, D-Somers, this month introduced a pair of bills to boost the Buy American effort.

The first would require the State of Wisconsin to purchase goods that are, to the greatest extent possible, made in the United States. That appears to follow federal law and, although we don’t know what agency here would enforce the requirement, it appears to be in line with recent protectionist policies.

The second bill is certainly a bit stranger and gives us pause.

It would undercut Wisconsin’s Constitution, which requires that stationary purchases be awarded to low bidders — a system that has served the state well over the years. Instead, McGuire’s bill would require that Wisconsin purchase from the low bidder operating in the state, unless no Wisconsin-based companies had submitted a bid. Does that mean that Wisconsin would be enacting a trade ban with, say, companies from Illinois? Or companies from Iowa and Minnesota and elsewhere? Just how many products are we talking about here? Does the state really want to have trade wars with its neighbors?

Not surprisingly, the bills received endorsements from state labor leaders, one of whom said: “I know first-hand that we make great products in Wisconsin and in the USA that can go toe-to-toe with any foreign product. Our taxpayer dollars should go toward buying American-made goods and services whenever and wherever possible.”

It seems to us the proposed legislation is saying the exact opposite — that Wisconsin wants to step on the toes of foreign and out-of-state companies and keep them and their products from competing for state dollars.

It seems to us, too, that the practical effect of the second bill would be to drive up the costs on state projects since it would eliminate bidding competition from out-of-staters — and that bill would ultimately be borne by state taxpayers.

We have to wonder, too, if this surge in protectionism could trickle down to smaller government units — cities, towns and municipalities — and have them require that only goods and services produced right in their communities be purchased by their governments.

“Buy American” is a nice slogan, but the expansion proposed by this legislation might run up against a wall of common sense.

– The Journal Times of Racine

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