CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At the direction of West Virginia legislators, a task force is considering whether to require the use of American-produced raw materials and products in all construction projects funded by state tax dollars.
The House of Delegates passed the West Virginia Buy American Act in February and the Senate passed it in March, before Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed it.
The legislation set up the Buy American Task Force to review its detailed provisions and requirements, before any of them can take effect. Task force members are supposed to report to the Legislature next year.
"If we take your tax money, we want to buy products made in America," said Delegate Larry Barker, D-Boone.
"Today, 37 states are looking at similar legislation. It would be nice if West Virginia was first in something," Barker said. "This country is doomed if we don't continue manufacturing."
Some of the major products used in construction projects, which are manufactured here and abroad, include pipes, reinforcing rods, pumps and electrical fixtures. Other materials, such as asphalt, can only be imported.
Barker said there would have to be some exemptions. "If an American-made product costs 25 percent more than a product made in China, we probably should use the Chinese product.
"And if there are not enough things made here, we will have to import them. Some products are not made here. Some things run in limited supply," Barker said. "If you can't buy it in America, then you can get a waiver."
The legislation itself pointed out, "The production of iron, steel, manufactured goods, coal and timber provides jobs and family income to many individuals in this state and, in turn, the jobs and family incomes of millions of persons in the United States."
"The main benefit of the 'Buy-American' process is to keep American dollars in America and preferably in West Virginia," stated the Buy American Task Force in the agenda for its Sept. 27 meeting.
Larry Matheney, secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said, "Let's lay the foundation to begin reversing the trend of offshore manufacturing. It may cost a little bit more, but you create a job for your neighbor.
"Today, we are losing to product made in countries with low wages, no environmental regulations, no human rights," Matheney said. "Until we return manufacturing to the United States, all these other political arguments concerning deficit reduction are just rhetoric. We have to bring manufacturing jobs back if we want to see the resurgence of the middle class."
West Virginia's government currently has no rules requiring state agencies or contractors to reveal where they buy products used for construction.
Chris E. Jarrett, executive director of the West Virginia Water Development Authority, said he does not know what percentage of products used to construct his agency's new headquarters were made in America. The new $3.2 million building sits on the corner of Bullitt and Spring Streets in Charleston.
"We obviously tried to deal locally in any ways we could -- local labor, local vendors. But that was not mandatory. There were no guidelines we had to adhere to," Jarrett said.