Erie County Legislator Ted Morton wants to amend the county charter to require that county purchases of $10,000 or more be substantially made in America.
Under the proposed law, called the Made in America Act, businesses that contract with the county would have to guarantee that the goods or materials they provide are manufactured or produced "in whole, or in substantial part" in the U.S. Other county administrators, however, say the proposed law may be legally flawed.
Morton, R-Cheektowaga, said he came up with the proposed law after seeing trends at the state and federal level, and after working closely with chambers of commerce in his district.
"Their big push is buy local and support businesses," he said. "It just kind of clicked that this is maybe something we ought to look at at the county level."
In June, the state passed the New York Buy American Act, which requires road and bridge construction projects in in the state to be build with American-made iron and steel.
Morton acknowledged there may be a "gray area" for some products purchased by the county and that the law may need tweaking, but the goal is for at least 51 percent of a product purchased by the county as part of a $10,000 contract to be manufactured in America.
Read the proposed law: Made in America Act
A public hearing is expected for this month, Morton said. If the law is adopted by the Legislature, County Executive Mark Poloncarz would have to support it, and voters would have to approve it as a proposition during the general election.
That seems like a tall order. Poloncarz said he supports the law in concept, but doesn't think it it's enforceable. He's asked the County Attorney's Office and Purchasing Department to review it, since they were unaware of the new proposal.
"We are bound to follow New York State procurement rules and laws," Poloncarz said, pointing out that the county has run into problems where they've had to accept bids from Canadian companies over American ones because they were considered the lowest responsible bidders. "We don't think the county law can create more stringent laws than state laws. While it makes sense to buy American, it may be unenforceable."
He noted that the county has expressed a commitment to hiring women-owned and minority-owned contractors, but those are guidelines and goals, not laws. The same rules would likely to apply to any "made in America" provision, he said.
"I'm not going to subject the county to a lawsuit," he said.