AGC's Construction Legislative Week in Review - 02/02/2012 (Plain Text Version)

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House and Senate Committees Move Forward with Transportation Reauthorization Legislation

Today, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee began consideration of H.R. 7, the American Infrastructure and Infrastructure Act of 2012. Over 100 amendments will be considered. The committee began action at 9:00 a.m. and is still meeting on the legislation.  The committee markup was notable for the partisan bickering between the majority and minority over the drafting of the bill. No Democrats have cosponsored the bill.

The bill authorizes approximately $260 billion over five years to fund federal highway, transit and safety programs, maintaining current funding levels. The bill, which can be read here, would make significant reforms in the environmental review and approval process and give states more flexibility in the use of the funds. Some of the bill highlights include:

  • Consolidates or eliminates nearly 70 federal programs
  • Eliminates mandates that states spend highway funding on non-highway activities
  • Allows states to set their own transportation priorities
  • Delegates more project approval authority to states
  • Condenses deadlines for federal agency project approvals
  • Accelerates the approval process for projects in an existing right-of-way
  • Encourages states to partner with the private sector to finance and build projects
  • Streamlines the project delivery process and reduces regulatory burdens for rail projects
  • Contains no earmarks
  • Expands the Transportation Innovative Financing and Investment Act (TIFIA) program to $1 billion per year from its current $122 million annual level
  • Provides $2 billion in funding for states to capitalize State Infrastructure Banks
  • Allows states to toll new capacity on existing interstates

The bill makes a significant change in the Highway Trust Fund by eliminating the Mass Transit Account and replacing it with a new “Alternative Transportation Account” that would fund the transit program, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program, research programs and Appalachian and Puerto Rican highway programs. While the T&I Committee bill does not spell out how this is to be funded, the Ways and Means Committee today revealed its portion of the legislation that is necessary to fund the entire bill. The Ways and Means bill redirects the 2.86 cents per gallon of the federal gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, currently going to the Mass Transit Account, to the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund, including any FY 2012 taxes that have already been collected and credited to the Mass Transit Account. The new “Alternative Transportation Account” would be supported by a transfer of $40 billion from the general fund.  There is no indication yet how the $40 billion transfer will be offset.

The House Natural Resources Committee met yesterday and passed three energy bills to be incorporated into the transportation bill. Two of the bills would require the Interior Department to expand leasing opportunities in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in the Gulf of Mexico; a third calls for promotion of shale oil production on public lands. The Ways and Means Committee bill calls for the revenue from this expanded leasing to be directed to the Highway Trust Fund.  These bills provide less than $10 billion in new trust fund revenue, far short of the $60 billion needed to fund a 5 year bill.

Also today, the Senate Banking Committee which has jurisdiction in the Senate for federal transit programs, approved its portion of the Senate legislation authorizing $8.36 billion for fiscal 2012 and 2013. The only committee remaining to take action in the Senate is the Finance Committee which must provide the revenue to support MAP-21. It is expected to take up the bill next week.

While both the House and Senate Committees are currently working to get the transportation reauthorization bills to their respective floors, the work to pass a bill into law is far from over.   Getting a highway and transit authorization bill passed in Congress and signed into law prior to March 31, 2012, will not be easy.   It is vital that AGC members engage business associates (suppliers, subcontractors, insurance, bonding, financial services, etc.), labor organizations and other non-construction businesses in this effort. Please join AGC’s campaign to Make Transportation JOB #1, and help continue to build momentum for passage of a reauthorization bill.

For more information, please contact Brian Deery at (703) 837-5319 or deeryb@agc.org, or Sean O’Neill at (202) 547-8892 or oneills@agc.org.

House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on PBGC and Multiemployer Pension Plans

On Feb. 2, 2012, the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions held a hearing entitled, “Examining the Challenges Facing PBGC and Defined Benefit Pension Plans.” The hearing explored the financial and management challenges at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), as well as policy proposals intended to strengthen the financial standing of the PBGC.

PBGC Director Joshua Gotbaum testified at the hearing and addressed the $26 billion deficit the PBGC currently faces. Gotbaum also discussed several options that Congress could take to encourage more secure retirements. His options included finding ways to strengthen existing plans, facilitate new options, helping individuals understand their retirement choices, and reducing administrative and regulatory burdens.  Gotbaum also addressed multiemployer pension plans and recognized that some of the plans are substantially underfunded and the traditional remedies won’t be enough. The PBGC will publish a multiemployer plan report soon that will help Congress identify reform proposals in the coming months.

The Executive Director of the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP), Randy DeFrehen, also testified during the hearing.  The NCCMP is a coalition of multiemployer plans and AGC serves on the Retirement Security Review Commission of the NCCMP that is developing legislative recommendations for Congress.

Before the hearing, AGC sent a letter to the committee highlighting the significant losses multiemployer plans took in recent years and that recent legislative relief has not been sufficient to offset the economic recession in the construction industry. AGC will continue to work with the agencies and Congress to make structural changes to the current system to ensure construction employers can continue to provide long-term retirement security for their workers. The letter submitted to the committee by AGC provided reform principles to consider while Congress works on reform legislation.

For more information, please contact Jim Young at (202) 547-0133 or youngj@agc.org. [return to top]

AGC’s 93rd Annual Convention is Only Six Weeks Away

Invest in your Business, Invest in Yourself, March 13-17, 2012

Attending AGC’s 93rd Annual Convention is more than just an opportunity to learn about the latest construction industry best practices or gain insight into new legislative regulations, it’s an investment in the future of your company, career and the construction industry overall.

From sessions on management and financial best practices to the impact technology and energy trends will have on the construction industry, to expert speakers on risk mitigation techniques, you’ll gain practical knowledge and know-how to improve your company’s bottom-line performance and as well as your own. 

Nowhere is the return on your investment in AGC or the construction industry greater than at the AGC Annual Convention. What takes place there helps to shape our industry. Play a part by registering for the convention here. [return to top]

The Sun Shines on Romney in Florida

Governor Mitt Romney defeated Speaker Newt Gingrich in Tuesday’s Florida primary by more than 14 points. A key battleground state on the road to the White House, Florida represents a significant victory for the Romney campaign. With 46 states left, the next challenge is the Nevada Caucuses held on Saturday, Feb. 4.   

Mitt Romney should have a strong showing in Nevada. Situated next to Utah, where the former Massachusetts governor has strong political and donor support, Romney has never trailed in a Nevada poll.  In 2008, he won the state's caucuses—and its 34 delegates—easily. To keep track of the Republican Presidential Convention delegate race, visit the Wall Street Journal’s GOP Delegate Tracker.

AGC continues to closely monitor this race and the congressional races for construction-friendly candidates.

For more information, please contact Jimmy Christianson at (202) 547-5013 or christiansonj@agc.org. [return to top]