Jackson’s ‘Buy America, Build Maine Act’ passes in Senate

Posted: June 22, 2017 | Senator Jackson

Legislation guarantees taxpayer funds, contracts benefit in-state businesses and workers

AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to give initial approval to a bill by Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would require the State of Maine to support American manufacturing and the creation of jobs in Maine when it contracts for public works or services.

“If the State of Maine has business to do, that business should be done by Maine companies and Maine workers. Our state spends millions of taxpayer dollars on contracted services every year. Those funds should support Maine’s workers and economy, not line the pockets of out-of-state companies or foreign manufacturers,” said Sen. Jackson. “This bill guarantees that our small businesses, and our workers, will have a fair shot at winning state contracts.”

However, Democrats narrowly held back Republican efforts to undermine the bill, when the the Senate voted 18-17, with Republican Sens. Tom Saviello and Scott Cyrway joining the Democrats, to kill a proposed amendment to the bill that would have effectively gutted the legislation. The amendment, sponsored by Assistant Senate Republican Leader Andre Cushing would have defanged the bill by removing the requirement for in-state preference in state contracting.

“State contracts create jobs and economic activity, and our state’s residents deserve to know that their elected officials won’t pass them over to give those jobs to someone else,” said Sen. Jackson. “If we truly want to ‘Make America Great Again,’ we must support our small businesses and workers.”

Under current law, there’s little to stop the state from sending taxpayer dollars out of state, or from supporting companies that have outsourced jobs.  Sen. Jackson’s bill — LD 956, the Buy America, Build Maine Act — would require that all public works contracts contain a provision requiring that manufactured goods, including iron and steel, must be manufactured in the United states.

It also requires that if two or more substantially similar bids are submitted for a public works contract, preference must be given to a bid submitted by an in-state contractor. If an in-state contractor submits a higher bid than an out-of-state contractor, the bill would require the state to give the Maine contractor an opportunity to match the low bid.

And the Senate voted unanimously to approve an amendment by Saviello that will allow businesses to qualify as “in-state” companies, for the purposes of bidding for state contracts, if 60 percent of their workforce or more is located within the state’s borders.

LD 956 is a bipartisan effort, with co-sponsors from both parties in the House and Senate.

During a public hearing held on LD 956 earlier this year, several business owners, workers and labor activists testified in support of the bill. C.B. Smith, co-founder and CEO of Virtual Managed Solutions in Caribou, said his company had submitted a bid for a five-year state contract for web services. Despite his bid scoring well, his company was passed over in favor of a Massachusetts company whose bid was $1 million higher than his.

“If we’d won that contract, we could have hired 24 more employees in the short term, and eight full-time, permanent employees,” Smith said. “That would have a been a 25 percent growth in our workforce, and no small increase in money being spent in Central Aroostook County. By awarding this contract to an out-of-state company, the state left our community behind.”

Patrick Carleton works at the Sappi paper mill in Skowhegan. He’s worked in manufacturing for most of his life, only to see most of his employers pack up to move overseas.

“Maine’s tax dollars should not be used to reward companies that have moved their operations, investment dollars and jobs to foreign countries that disregard worker safety and environmental standards,” he said. “… It’s time for Maine to lead the way in saving the jobs we have and focusing on the creation of jobs that will support American manufacturing and Maine workers.”

LD 956 now heads to the Senate for initial votes.