Bill would require state vehicles be US or Canada made

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD —  A state representative wants Illinois to buy only vehicles made in North America, but opponents say the idea could come back to bite the state.

State Rep. Mike Smiddy’s bill, HB 3438, would limit the state to buying only vehicles assembled in the U.S. or Canada.

Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, said a similar bill he sponsored passed the House last year with 73 votes but did not make it out of the Senate before the session ended.

However, the idea and subsequent bill went from a “buy American” to more “buy North American” when Canada was added during negotiations in the Senate last year.

Smiddy said his bill does not include Mexico because Mexico does not offer working conditions, standards and wages on par with the U.S. and Canada.

“I do not want to reward a company that has less working standards than what the United States and Canada has as far as producing these products,” he said.

The bill is supported by labor, including the AFL-CIO, but opposed by the Illinois Manufacturers Association and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Mark Denzler of the manufacturers group the bill makes certain sense politically, and the association certainly wants all the products possible made in Illinois.

But, he said, the association sees three problems:

  • It could have a negative effect on about 100 manufacturers in Illinois that build parts or components that go into vehicles made around the world.
  • It could increase costs to the state and reduce choices for the state.
  • It might violate free trade pacts and stress relations with other countries.

“You know the last thing that we want is Australia or Mexico or another country to say ‘Hey! Caterpillar or John Deere, or whoever it is, can’t sell their products in our country unless they’re made here,’” Denzer said.

Smiddy points to a General Motors police car made in Australia. Wouldn’t requiring North American final assembly give GM an incentive to build that police car in the U.S.,  Smiddy asks, noting Ford builds its own police car offering in Chicago.

Smiddy said he knows there’s no guarantee assembly jobs would necessarily land at UAW-represented plants in North America or newly opened ones in the U.S, but he thinks the state should add incentive for automakers to assemble in the U.S.

When domestic or foreign-owned makers open plants in the U.S. he said, American communities benefit.

“We’re trying to help out the American economy, not the Australian economy or Mexican economy,” Smiddy said.

The bill has passed the House Labor Committee and is awaiting debate on the House floor,  possibly next week.

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