Legislation requiring all Erie County contracts over $10,000 to be awarded to America-based companies was passed by the County Legislature Friday — despite two lawmakers being at loggerheads over the merits of the proposal.
Legislator Ted B. Morton, a Republican from Depew, was the sponsor of the law.
During a special session of the Legislature, which is usually in recess in August, Morton explained that his proposal was designed to bolster local manufacturing.
Morton said the law would allow the county to, "as a community say that the hardworking men and women that live here, own homes, pay property taxes … that we stand with you, and that wherever possible, we, as a county, will be purchasing the fruits of their labor."
Patrick B. Burke, a Democrat from South Buffalo, however, expressed skepticism about the necessity for such legislation.
He also viewed the timing of the law as suspect. If approved by County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, the local law would appear on the ballot in November as a voter referendum.
"There's no actual need for a legal referendum on this," Burke said.
Burke said that the referendum would also appear on the ballot at the same time Morton's name does, in his bid for re-election.
"So it's questionable in my mind, especially considering that your past statements on workers and your saying, in your opinion, that the bare minimum hours that people should work is 40. That was the statement you made in these chambers that is on the record. You bragged when we were talking about the gas cap tax that you drive a Toyota Prius. So I find it ironic that somebody who drives a Toyota Prius is now the champion of Made In America," Burke said.
Morton took umbrage at the jab. He questioned how Burke couldn't know that he doesn't drive that kind of vehicle — when he and Burke park next to each other in the Rath Building's parking lot.
Legislature Chairman John J. Mills interrupted the argument.
And, despite a failed attempt by Buffalo Democrat Legislator Betty Jean Grant, the Made In America Act, was approved by the Legislature in a 9-1 vote, with Burke as the sole opponent.
In other business, the Legislature also approved the allocation of nearly $250,000 in county funds to two health care providers for services they will be offering to combat opioid abuse.
Neighborhood Health Center will receive $207,221, while the International Institute of Buffalo was awarded a contract for $50,000.
Benjamin Swanekamp, an executive assistant in the health department, said while such funds mostly go to provide services to the U.S.-born population, the International Institute also works with those who have been victims of the international sex trade.
"They also do a lot of work with people who are sex-trafficked. A new, emerging pattern in that world is individuals who are intentionally made to be addicted to opioids as a dependency to control them," Swanekamp said.
Both contracts are part of a total $500,000 that was made available to fight the opioid epidemic.
An earlier award, for nearly $250,000, was made to Evergreen Health Services.