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“We owe it to the workers, to the small business owners to have their backs”: New bill would put Maine workers first

A new bill proposed by Senate President Troy Jackson would prioritize Maine-based businesses, workers, and American manufacturing when bidding on state contracts.

AUGUSTA, Maine — New legislation proposed by Senate President Troy Jackson (D- Allagash) would put Maine business owners first, he said Wednesday. In a virtual press conference, Jackson introduced the 'Buy American, and Build Maine Act.'

“When your job is to represent the best interest of the more than 1.3 million Maine people, I do not understand, for the life of me, how you don’t put them first," he said.

The bill would give Maine-based businesses priority when applying for state awarded procurement contracts. Many business owners testified to the Legislature's Committee on State and Local Government in support of the bill Wednesday afternoon.

“The days of companies pretending to be American needs to stop and needs to stop now, enough is enough," Ben Waxman of American Roots said. “It is not a level playing field right now.”

Waxman said his clothing company is the only one he knows of that uses 100 percent of American material in all of its products. Last year, the company adapted and began making COVID-19 masks and face shields.

He said he quickly learned the challenges his business would face when competing to get manufacturing contracts against out-of-state or overseas companies.

“If you’re making a mask for $0.98 a piece, you’re not paying people living wages, you’re not using materials made in the USA and that needs to change," Waxman added.

Kathie Leonard of Auburn Manufacturing, Inc. added having 'Buy American' content at the state level is useful for her company and others like it. She said many companies falsely claim to be selling American goods.

“And they’re not, they’re selling imported products and as long as they don’t have to prove it, it’s a don’t ask don’t tell situation," she added. “Just because it’s a Maine company doesn’t mean it’s a Maine product or a U.S. product.”

The bill states it requires all contracts "for the construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, improvement or maintenance of a public building or public work made by a state agency, board, commission or institution except for the Department of Transportation and the Maine Turnpike Authority, contain a provision that any manufactured good valued over $500, including iron, cement, and steel, and any article, material or supply acquired for public use used or supplied in the performance of the contract or any subcontract to the contract must be manufactured in the United States."

The requirement does not apply to all counties, municipalities, or school administrative units.

Opponents of the bill also spoke at Wednesday's public hearing. Jason Stutheit of the Associated Builders and Contractors said this bill would drive up costs that would eventually turn around and impact the Maine taxpayer.

He also said many contracted projects, like working on schools, are very time-sensitive.

If I have to go get waivers for projects, how long is that going to take, we don’t have time," he said. “We’re trying our hands and costing us more money the way this is currently written.”

Matthew Marks represented the Associated General Contractors of Maine. He added in some years, there aren't enough projects to go around in the state.

“It will have to push some of our Maine contractors to chase work in other states and I worry about putting us in a box," he said.

Marks has that fear because he said some contractors might not get those out-of-state contracts if this bill becomes law and states 'retaliate' against Maine companies by not giving them certain contracts.

A similar version of this bill did make it through Committee last legislative session, but when the legislature adjourned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this bill went with it. 

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