Lawmakers consider 'Buy American' policy

February 4, 2010 8:01:07 PM PST
There is a move in Sacramento to buy American when it comes to state-owned cars. It is about perception and jobs, but for some lawmakers it is a complicated decision.

Many state lawmakers show their green credentials by driving Toyota Priuses; the Assembly alone has nearly 90 of them.

"With taxpayer money, the idea is we should be supporting American jobs," Barry Broad of the Teamsters' Union said.

But with all the Toyota safety problems lately, Assm. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, pushed the Assembly Rules Committee to approve a "Buy American" policy.

"We're trying to send a message to Toyota that they need to put safety in California above profits," Lieu said.

California used to have a "Buy American" policy until 2003; it was changed to green the state fleet and accommodate more environmentally-friendly cars.

"Buy American" means at least half of the car must be manufactured in the United States and it would apply only to future vehicle purchases.

Toyota could not be reached for comment; and Republicans abstained from the vote.

"Taxpayers don't care about 'Buy American,'" Assm. Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia, said. "They want to know they are spending our dollars wisely and that we're getting the best bargain possible and that we're not wasting their precious tax dollars."

Backing away from the Japanese carmaker was a difficult move for Lieu, considering Toyota Motor Sales is based in his district.

Besides the safety issues, he is also upset that Toyota is shutting down the Bay Area NUMMI plant, the last auto plant in California, even after they received tax breaks and the sales incentive of single drivers in Priuses being allowed to use the carpool lane with a special sticker.

"We helped kickstart their hybrid market and now they got all the benefits from that, plus their profits, they're leaving and divesting from California; I believe that's wrong," Lieu said.

The Assembly has little clout because it buys just a few dozen cars every few years, but the symbolism is what they are after.