(CHICAGO) -- State and local governments, which spend close to $2 trillion annually on goods and services, are increasingly trying to leverage their purchasing power to favor American businesses and create jobs.
Twenty-one states had "Buy American" laws through 2009, according to the National Association of State Procurement Officials, and nearly every state has implemented preference statutes for buying from in-state producers, many added since the recession began.
In Minnesota, law enforcement agencies must buy uniforms and protective gear that's made in the U.S.A., and natural resources officers can only ride all-terrain vehicles built in the state.
Illinois agencies in the market for plastic goods must favor companies that use by-products of Illinois corn. State contracts for printing services are given out first to companies that use ink derived from Illinois-grown soybeans.
North Dakota mandates that state office buildings can only fly American flags that were sewn together on American soil.
"They all are aiming to achieve the same thing: get that economic value out of public spending," said Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
Most states provide exceptions to their rules, allowing purchasers to get their goods elsewhere if similar items aren't available in the U.S. And there's little indication the laws are rigorously enforced.
But Mitchell said the measures can make a difference, particularly as states broaden the use of preferences for state contracts, favoring local businesses even if their prices aren't the lowest.
Critics say purchasing preference laws put taxpayers in a bind, forcing government agencies to choose from a limited selection of goods and services, some of questionable quality and many that could cost more than those found outside the state or overseas.
Legal experts question whether the laws run against international trade agreements and possibly violate the Constitution, which says only the federal government can regulate interstate commerce, though no legal challenges have occurred.
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