(The Center Square) – New Hampshire lawmakers are considering a plan that would require major public works projects to be built only with U.S. steel and domestic materials.
The bipartisan proposal, which was approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives last week, would require cities and towns to give preference to U.S. manufacturers when buying steel, iron and other materials for new buildings and renovations.
The "Made in America" restrictions, if approved, would apply to public projects exceeding $1 million for "reconstruction, alteration, repair, improvement or maintenance of a public building or public works made by a public agency."
Backers of the plan say foreign competitors are hurting the nation's manufacturers and argue that the proposed restrictions would mean more tax revenue and jobs for the state.
"This bill allows us to stay within the United States, whether it's the source of steel or the fabricators of the steel, and that's one of the reasons it's so critical," state Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, the bill's primary sponsor, said in recent testimony. "We don't want to become more dependent on foreign countries for critical goods that are essential to the American infrastructure."
The move is strongly supported by trade groups such as Alliance for American Manufacturing and the Steel Fabricators of New England, which says passage of the legislation is "a crucial step towards creating a level playing field for domestic steel fabricators."
"Continued supply chain issues and product shortages show just how important it is for the United States to strengthen and grow domestic manufacturing," the alliance said in a recent blog post on the New Hampshire proposal. "Buy America helps ensure that when the government spends taxpayer dollars, it maximizes opportunities to invest tax money in critical areas. Doing so also grows jobs and boosts local economies."
The groups say manufacturers from Canada and other countries can afford to underbid domestic firms on public construction because of a favorable tax structure.
Critics say "Made in America" proposals would set protectionist policies that could limit the availability of labor and materials, and affect costs at a time when inflation has already driven up prices for construction.
Supporters have acknowledged that the move would likely drive up material and construction costs for public projects but say that would be offset by a boost in domestic economic activity.
The steel fabricators group said for every $1 spent on domestic fabricated steel about $1.50 is generated in economic activity.
A fiscal note attached to the bill noted that the state Department of Administrative Services said the cost impacts of using American manufactured iron, steel and manufactured goods is "indeterminable due to wide-ranging price fluctuations for these goods, supply-chain shortages, and U.S.-imposed tariffs."
At least 21 states, including Maine and New Hampshire, have laws that require government preference for American-made materials and products.
Thirty-eight states have procurement preference for in-state manufacturers, according to the National Association of State Procurement Officials, a trade group.
New Hampshire's proposal, which is still pending before the House Finance Committee, must still pass the Republican-majority Senate before landing on Republican Gov. Chris Sununu's desk for consideration.