Update: The answer is no. The governor vetoed the bill on Thursday afternoon.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has just three days to take action on the bipartisan Made in America legislative package. But will he do the right thing?
Passed by the New Jersey General Assembly just before the holiday break, this important package of five bills updates the state’s longstanding Buy American preferences to ensure they are practical and enforceable. The fate of the legislation now sits with Christie, who has until the Feb. 5 session of the New Jersey legislature to sign or veto the package.
I wrote to Christie on Friday asking him to sign the package, as doing so would be beneficial to both New Jersey workers and the state’s economy.
Buy America is nothing new in New Jersey. State legislators first put Buy America laws requiring the purchase of goods manufactured or farmed in the United States in 1932. These laws require the purchase of U.S. goods whenever possible when fulfilling local public contracts, local schools contracts, and state public works or construction contracts.
But there is little evidence that they are consistently applied. Consequently, New Jersey has lost more than 180,000 manufacturing jobs since 2001.
New Jersey needs Buy American preferences that work, that are transparent, and that are enforceable. This is something even the Superior Court of New Jersey agrees with. In 1991, the court noted the difficulty encountered by purchasing officials in implementing the Buy American provisions in NJ statute and declared that “some regulatory or legislative guidelines are sorely needed before these ‘Buy-American’ statutes can be effectively administered.”
In approving these bills, the state legislature recognized the need to improve these existing laws to make them both workable and enforceable.
Now, the legislation recognizes it is not always possible or practical to procure products manufactured in the United States. It creates a waiver system to facilitate commonsense application of the existing procurement preference. Even the impartial Office of Legislative Services recognizes that the legislation reduces the amount of contracts subject to existing requirement.
Signing this legislation into law will provide a valuable incentive for foreign manufacturers to consider New Jersey as a site of a future facility in order to better compete for the state’s business. Manufacturing jobs currently make up 6 percent of New Jersey’s total employment, and the sector represents nearly 8.5 percent of New Jersey’s gross state product. While New Jersey now has 243,100 manufacturing jobs, it remains 63,000 short of its pre-recession level.
Indeed, New Jersey should use it purchasing power to complement its public policy objectives. Unlike their foreign competitors in places such as China, India and Russia, U.S. manufacturers are heavily regulated and do not rely on subsidies from their government to make them more competitive. New Jersey’s procurement policies should not be divorced from its public policies. Taxpayer dollars should not be used to bolster foreign state-owned enterprises, nor should those dollars reward companies that have moved their operations, investment dollars, and jobs away to foreign countries that lack or completely disregard environmental and workplace safety regulations.
Without these sensible changes enacted into law, New Jersey will continue on a path of sending hard-earned New Jersey tax dollars to foreign firms when American workers stand to do the work.
America’s manufacturers and workers are anxiously watching, hoping Christie will support these commonsense and necessary fixes to existing state law. With his signature, Christie can tell them he supports their jobs, their businesses, and their communities.