TOPEKA — Democrats in the Kansas Legislature proposed a “Buy American” law Thursday to require state agencies to use U.S.-manufactured goods in public works projects.
The proposal, announced by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, comes less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election. The two leaders said the goal is to spur growth in manufacturing jobs.
Massive income tax cuts, championed by Gov. Sam Brownback and fellow conservative Republicans, were enacted this year with a similar goal of stimulating the economy and creating new jobs.
Hensley and Davis outlined their jobs proposal during a news conference at the headquarters of a local autoworkers’ union in Kansas City, Kan. They had similar events in Topeka and Wichita on Thursday, promising that Democrats will pursue the measure during the next legislative session, which convenes in January.
“We want to continue to push the jobs issue, and we think we have a very different approach on that issue to Gov. Brownback, who really has one idea for job creation, and that is to give tax cuts to big businesses and the wealthiest Kansans,” Davis said during the Topeka news conference at a steelworkers local’s headquarters.
Manufacturing represents a major segment of the Kansas economy, accounting for about 166,400 jobs in September, or 12 percent of the state’s 1.35 million non-farm jobs, according to the state Department of Labor.
Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag called the Democrats’ proposal a good idea that would complement legislation enacted this year to give companies a preference in seeking state contracts if they hire disabled workers. She also shrugged off Democrats’ criticism of Brownback, pointing to the “Road Map for Kansas” he proposed while running for governor in 2010.
“That lists out multiple ways we approach growing the state’s economy and creating jobs,” she said.
The reductions enacted this year lower individual income tax rates for 2013 and include a drop in the top tax rate to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent. The state also will exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from paying individual income taxes. Supporters argue the cuts are broad and help all Kansans.
Legislative researchers have projected that the tax cuts will save taxpayers $4.5 billion over the next six years, but Democrats view them as reckless because the researchers also project collective budget shortfalls approaching $2.5 billion during the same period.
Hensley and Davis said that Democrats also have “worked tirelessly” to create jobs. Last year, they proposed a 14-point plan that included expanding legalized gambling to help fund programs to train unemployed workers, repair infrastructure and help small businesses. One part of that plan would have required companies with contracts worth more than $100,000 to ensure that at least 70 percent of the workers were Kansas residents.
Democrats’ latest proposal would require state agencies to use American goods in building and other public works projects, exempting them from the requirement only if such goods are not readily available or would increase the cost of a project by more than 25 percent.
“Enacting the Buy American Act is the first, imperative step to growing our business sector and creating jobs,” Hensley said.