State fleet selection should be based on best value

Published May 11, 2015

In the parking lots of some union halls you’ll still see the signs: “No foreign cars allowed.”

The signs almost seem quaint, a vestige of another era.

But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a state lawmaker from the Quad-Cities is sponsoring legislation that would require all vehicles purchased by the state of Illinois be manufactured in “North America” — the U.S. or Canada.

Last time I checked Mexico was part of North America but not in State Rep. Mike Smiddy’s bill.

The Democrat from Hillsdale told Illinois News Network his bill does not include Mexico because Mexico does not offer working conditions, standards and wages on par with the U.S. and Canada.

But if that is the criteria, why does the bill discriminate against German carmakers? After all, autoworkers in Germany earn on average almost twice as much as their American counterparts.

What this is really about is helping the United Auto Workers, a union that represents many factory workers in the United States and Canada.

The Quad-Cities, where Smiddy lives, is a UAW redoubt.

It’s also my favorite part of Illinois. I lived there for many years and grew to love the community.

The region has a rich UAW history as a farm implement manufacturing center. Even the city librarians in Moline belong to the UAW.

Often when folks talk about “American made” cars what they really mean is union-made ones.

For example, I drive a Honda that was made in Alabama.

My wife, on the other hand, drives a Chevy made in Canada.

When I bought my Honda six years ago, one of my wife’s co-workers criticized me for driving a “foreign” car.

When I pointed out where it was made his response was, “Yeah, but the money goes back to Japan.

The problem with that argument is that many Americans own stock in Honda. By the same token, governments such as that of China own large portions of “American” carmakers like General Motors.

In fact, many overseas auto factories use parts made here in Illinois.

That’s one reason the Illinois Manufacturers Association opposes Smiddy’s bill, which has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

The fact of the matter is the U.S. has two auto industries.

One composed of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler is mostly Midwestern and is unionized.

The other American auto industry is mostly Southern and non-union. The owners of these factories are Japanese, European and Korean companies. But their workers are every bit as American as the ones laboring on assembly lines in Detroit.

Frankly, I couldn’t give a hoot whether the person who built my car paid union dues.

What I care about is whether the car is a good value and will serve my family’s needs.

And that’s the criteria the state should use when making its purchases.

Ultimately, it should be a matter of what provides taxpayers with the best value.

Scott Reeder ([email protected]) is the Executive Editor of the Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. An earlier version of this article first appeared at Reprinted with permission.