AGC's Construction Legislative Week in Review - 10/01/2009 (Plain Text Version)
AGC Unveils Construction Recovery Plan as Construction Employment Declined in 324 Cities in August
AGC CEO Steve Sandherr addresses the media at an abandoned construction site in Sparks, Nev.
AGC unveiled a new plan designed to revive the hardest hit sector of the economy, the nation's construction industry. The plan, "Build Now for the Future: A Blueprint for Economic Growth," is designed to reverse predictions that construction activity will continue to shrink through 2010, crippling broader economic growth.
Federal action on the mix of new incentives, tax cuts, policy revisions and infrastructure investments outlined in the plan are needed to stem the dramatic decline in construction activity and employment taking place nationwide. AGC's analysis of federal employment data found construction employment declined in 324 of 337 metropolitan areas between August 2008 and 2009.
AGC released the plan during a news conference at a stalled construction site in Sparks, Nev., a city that lost 35% of its construction work force. The news was covered by theAssociated Press, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Miami Herald and San Antonio Express News, to name a few. Local television stations covered the event as well.
Congress Extends Highway/Transit Authorization 30 Days, Fails To Address $8.7 Billion Rescission
Congress completed action on a thirty-day Continuing Resolution to keep government programs operating in the new fiscal year while it continues to debate the necessary appropriations bills for the various federal agencies. Included in the legislation is a thirty-day spending authorization for the highway and transit programs. This action was necessary because SAFETEA-LU, the current transportation authorization, expired on September 30. In a last minute change of heart, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ranking Republican Jim Inhofe (Okla.) attempted to get the Senate to pass a three-month extension of authorization that included a provision to eliminate an $8.7 billion rescission of highway spending authority. Until now, the Senate transportation leaders have supported the Obama administration’s request that authorization be extended for eighteen months until March 2011.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) continues to press for Congress to complete action now on a six-year authorization bill and therefore has sought to limit the length of an extension, which lead to the House passing a three-month extension last week. The House bill, however, does not address the rescission problem because House rules require that eliminating the rescission must be offset with other spending cuts or revenue increases. Sens. Boxer and Inhofe attempted to identify acceptable offsets but were not successful. The thirty day reprieve hopefully gives transportation leaders time to work on a strategy for moving forward with a long-term authorization. While the rescission was implemented as of midnight last night, Sen. Boxer indicated that she will continue to attempt to find a way to ensure that states are not required to cut their highway programs.
Read more about the effect of the rescission in the Denver Business Journal.
Health Care Debate Continues in Senate
The Senate Finance Committee continues to work on a comprehensive health care reform bill. The Democratic leadership had hoped to have the Committee finish its work last week and move toward merging its version with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s (HELP) version. However, the Committee has continued to meet to discuss numerous amendments and delays receiving the legislation’s final cost estimates.
Although the committee continues to work, many senators are considering working out differences after the committee adjourns. Major differences include whether or not to include a public option, instituting employer mandates and changing the tax on “Cadillac” plans. The amendments the committee has dispensed with have been relatively minor, which could make for a very contentious debate after the bill is merged with the HELP committees and ultimately brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
While much of the action is in the Senate, House leaders are grappling over a shifting timeline and potentially eroding support for their bill. Democratic leaders hoped to have the bill ready for consideration by the full House starting October 18. Deadlines have come and passed during this process and it is unknown whether the Democratic leaders can keep all their members unified behind the bill that AGC opposes.
AGC remains concerned over employer mandates, the penalties for companies that cannot afford to provide health care, the uncertainties in coverage requirements, the affect on temporary and seasonal employees, the limitations on FSAs, HSAs and HRAs, and expanded COBRA mandates. AGC is also concerned that the exorbitant costs of the proposed plans will result in increased taxes on individuals and companies. AGC supports reform that increases coverage, choice and competition in the marketplace. The inclusion of a public plan in the legislation will drive private insurers out of the market and the projected savings from the proposed legislation may never materialize, resulting in future tax increases.
Currently, the Senate Finance Committee is considering several amendments and will likely finish tomorrow. A vote will follow next week after a Congressional Budget Office analysis.
Click here to learn about the different health care proposals outlined by the Kaiser J. Family Foundation. Many of the details are still being decided and any final legislation would have to incorporate the different proposals.
Senators Introduce Climate Change Bill
Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) Wednesday introduced an 821-page bill (S. 1733) aimed at reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions through a cap and trade program, promoting energy independence, and transitioning to a clean energy economy.
Overall, the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act” seeks to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. The Senate bill takes a more aggressive approach in the short-term than the House-passed bill (H.R. 2454), which set its 2020 target at 17 percent below 2005 levels, and President Obama who called for a 14 percent cut.
The Kerry-Boxer bill is silent on the allocation of emission allowances under a cap and trade program, but reserves at least 25 percent of the emissions allocations every year to be sold at auction, with the proceeds dedicated to the Treasury to keep the bill deficit neutral. The House-passed bill allocates 85 percent of the emission credits to affected industries to mitigate the costs of cap and trade, leaving only 15 percent up for auction, with the proceeds directed towards low- and moderate-income families.
The Kerry-Boxer bill does not contain AGC-supported language included in the House-passed bill that would prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Act, if EPA moves to regulate greenhouse gases under nearly any section of the Act, it would trigger requirements under other provisions of the law that would impact construction, ranging from costly and time-consuming pre-construction permits for building construction and renovation to hurdles for transportation projects.
The bill also includes new metropolitan and state-wide transportation planning requirements that would force states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations to address transportation-related greenhouse gases by including emission reduction targets and strategies to meet those targets in their transportation plans. AGC has concerns with similar provisions in the House-passed bill that could make approvals for highway capacity projects—despite their benefits to congestion and, thus, emissions—more difficult to obtain.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to conduct hearings on the Kerry-Boxer bill in October, with consideration of the measure later in the month. Five other Senate committees have jurisdiction over aspects of the legislation, including the Energy Committee, which approved an energy bill (S. 1462) in mid-July. It is uncertain whether there are enough votes in the Senate to pass legislation that would create a cap and trade program to regulate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
AGC is working with committees of jurisdiction to address concerns related to provisions in the bill that would impact the construction industry.
October Brings First Recovery Act Reporting Deadline
The first quarterly reporting deadline for the Recovery Act is October 10, 2009, for all contracts and funds issued February 14 to September 30, 2009. Section 1512 of the Recovery Act requires information about the project and the jobs it creates, plus salary disclosure for certain federal contractors, to be reported to the central Federal web site, www.federalreporting.gov, which went live on August 17, 2009.
As a tool for contractors to help detail everything they need to know about the reporting process, the Department of Defense has prepared a special presentation to AGC. To view the presentation, click here.
AGC also has detailed information for contractors on how to comply with the reporting requirements: For more information on the reporting requirements contained in the Recovery Act, click here for federal contractors; here for federally-assisted work; and here for more information about the reporting process. For OMB's guidance and forms associated with reporting, see OMB's recipient reporting information.
Appropriators Finalize FY10 Funding for Army Corps of Engineers
On September 30, Senate and House Appropriators agreed to a Conference Report funding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Civil Works Program at a level of $5.4 billion for FY 2010. AGC sent a letter to Appropriators calling for a minimum of $5.5 billion, citing the current economic climate, high unemployment in the construction industry and the strong impact infrastructure investment has on our economy. Although the Conference Report included a slightly lower figure, new construction starts were funded for the first time in several years on a number of new key projects.
The Recovery Act Reaches 225 Day Milestone
The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) met on Thursday, October 1, to examine the progress to date on implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The hearing addressed implementation efforts by the Department of Transportation.
The Secretary provided the Committee with information regarding the $1.5 billion in Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grants. Nearly 1,400 applications were received for $56.5 billion in total projects, which means that DOT will only be able to fund fewer than 3% of the total number requests. They expect to be able to announce the grant recipients in December, well ahead of the February 2010 statutory deadline.
T&I Committee members also received a status update from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on the obligation and disbursements of stimulus funds. Secretary LaHood shared with the Committee that following the 32nd week of the implementation of the stimulus, DOT has obligated $29.4 billion – or over 60% of their stimulus funds - on over 9,000 projects across the country. The U.S. Treasury has so far disbursed almost $3.4 billion in payments for stimulus projects. For a video of the committee hearing and further information on the 225 day report, click here.
According to the Committee, the stimulus funding for highway and transit projects has created or sustained 122,000 jobs.