Is Oregon’s DOT Still Going to Undercut the State’s New Buy America rule?

By Matthew McMullan
Jan 04 2024 |
When ODOT repairs a road like this using only Oregon tax dollars, it should buy American. Getty Images

It proposed a lengthy and broad waiver before the rule even took effect, but it may be rethinking its plans.

The last time we checked on the attempt by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to immediately grant a lengthy and broad waiver to a new state-level Buy America rule covering infrastructure procurement, the proposal was in a public comment period.

And boy howdy, did people comment. Hundreds of Oregonians joined us in letting ODOT know that its reasoning – that the rule would be an “administrative burden” – was nonsense, and that the rule should be implemented as it was intended to be.

The law was supposed to take effect on Jan. 1, but ODOT has been silent on it and its proposed waiver.

Maybe it’s reconsidering its nonsense, because honestly: This rule isn’t exactly rocket science. Plenty of infrastructure projects completed or underway in Oregon are already governed by Buy America rules, if they’re paid for even in part by federal dollars. Those rules have been in place for decades, and ODOT has managed to manage projects with those rules in place during that time.

The rule signed into law by Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek last fall, however, is meant to cover a gap. It applies to projects funded only by Oregon, which, when only using the state’s tax dollars, didn’t have to adhere to federal Buy America rules.

Again, not rocket science. Plenty of other states have similar laws on the books to cover their own state-level spending. But what ODOT is proposing would make the Beaver State stand out, writes Jim Gourley, a former mayor of Sweet Home, Ore., in the Portland Oregonian:

“Oregon may be the first to pass such a bill and then immediately allow its implementing agency to neuter it. These rules aren’t a burden, they’re more than reasonable.”

Buy America remains what it’s always been: An opportunity to reinvest the tax dollars we spend on public works into our own economy. When the federal or a state government builds a bridge or repairs a stretch of highway, Buy America rules make sure domestic workers get the first chance at supplying the materials necessary to get the job done. And by directing public money to American enterprises, Buy America promotes the growth of manufacturing supply chains in the U.S., expands the tax base in the U.S., and – by creating more job opportunities in the U.S. – reduces the burden on the social safety net.

We’re still watching to see if ODOT gets this right, and buys American.