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Kansas Democrats proposing ‘Buy American’ requirement for state agencies

TOPEKA, Kan. — 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.

The massive income tax cuts, championed by Gov. Sam Brownback and fellow conservative Republicans, were enacted 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 auto workers’ union in Kansas City, Kan. They scheduled similar events in Topeka and Wichita on Thursday and promised that Democrats will pursue the measure during the next legislative session, which convenes in January.

"As one of the leading purchasers of manufactured goods, the state of Kansas wields significant power," Davis said in a statement. "It’s time to harness that power and put it to good use."

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’s allies hope that conservative Republicans emerge from this year’s elections with control of both chambers. Republicans have majorities of 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House, but GOP moderates had retained control in the Senate.

Conservatives succeeded in ousting eight moderate Republican senators in August primary races and are now looking to defeat Democratic incumbents this fall, including Hensley. Earlier this month, the anti-tax, small government group Americans for Prosperity praised GOP candidates in mailers for supporting a “job recovery agenda” that includes “lower tax cuts for every Kansas family.”

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.

Legislative researchers have projected that the reductions will lower taxes by $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.

Their 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.