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  • Fri, October 11, 2019 2:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As of now, the long anticipated bi-partisan supported transportation authorization legislation that sets many infrastructure spending elements, standards, and approaches has taken a back seat to the political wrangling that has consumed the Congressional calendar.  Notwithstanding, valuable work has continued on key issues facing the industry and decisions makers about elements of the next bill.  Listed below are some materials, studies, and reports Reason Foundation has recently identified on these subject of financing.

    RESOURCES [Financing Alternatives]:
    (A) Mileage vs. Gas Taxes:
    The major problem facing advocates of mileage-based-user-fees: unpopularity. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program’s NCHRP Synthesis 487 found that the average support for MBUFs in numerous polls was just 24 percent. This is partly because of public concerns and media portrayals of mileage-based user fees (MBUFs) as “Big Brother in your car.” It also reflects fears that this will end up being an additional tax, rather than a replacement for fuel taxes.  A recent policy brief takes this challenge head-on: “How a State Could Transition From Per-Gallon Gas Taxes to Per-Mile Charges,” suggests ways MBUFs can represent a genuine value proposition for those expected to pay per mile instead of per gallon.

    (B) Public-Private Partnerships (P3’s): The debate over the efficiency, costs, and return (in terms of savings for clients, and/or margins for contractors) continues to rage, if not having intensified in recent.  Two reports weigh into the subject: (1) to address some of the claims[“Leveraging Private Capital for Infrastructure Renewal” is a recent product of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, published as NCHRP Synthesis 540, and available at no charge from the TRB website]; and (2) a status report on the magnitude or number of projects using the P3 approach in the U.S. [Reason’s 2019Annual Privatization Report on Surface Transportation contains news on state P3 legislation and concession activities, while noting that overall, compared to other countries, the U.S. continues to lag in public-private partnerships].

    (C) Assets Recycling:  While still relatively underutilized, contractors, state and local governments interested in asset recycling should review a 2014 report from the Mowat Centre, a public policy think tank in Ontario, Canada: “Recycling Ontario’s Assets: A New Framework for Managing Public Finances.”

  • Fri, October 04, 2019 12:02 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), current chairman of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee (HELP), took an important step last week by including a robust, well-designed version of the JOBS Act in the Student Aid Improvement Act – legislation designed to take a first step toward reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. If successful, the “JOBS Act” language would become a provision or title in the larger Act, so that shorter length courses aimed at job skills sets needed by businesses (including the A/E/C industry) would be recognized and funded through Pell Grant dollars. The so-called “Workforce Pell” grants which are championed by Sens. Portman (R-OH) and Kaine (D-VA), as well as the White House strongly support this legislation. What matters most in this debate is not whether the entity offering the courses is a public vs. private institution, but rather the quality of the training and whether or not it’s cost effective. To this end, the Student Aid Improvement Act includes thoughtful safeguards to protect against abuses.

    The Opportunity America Jobs & Careers Coalition (which CIRT is a member) pointed out in a letter supporting Sen. Alexander’s approach: “Training is often offered in the more flexible, fast-moving continuing education division of the college. Many if not most programs prepare students to earn qualifications – industry certifications, technical certificates, and licensure – highly valued in the labor market.”  However, the Coalition confirmed that one of the greatest barriers or impediments to these offerings, is the fact: “federal student aid isn’t keeping up with this innovation.”  Even though, the Pell Grant program disbursed some $28.2 billion last year in needs-based funding to cover tuition and other college costs. Under current law, “Pell Grants are available only to students working to earn academic certificates or degrees, and they cover only programs that are at least a semester in length.” [See, Coalition letter on this matter for details].

    Sen. Alexander appears to be making a valiant attempta serious effortto attract bipartisan backing.  However, to date HELP ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has not joined Sen. Alexander in introducing the legislation, and some education advocacy groups are hesitating to endorse it because it would allow students to use Pell Grants for short job training programs at for-profit colleges as well as community colleges. 

  • Wed, September 18, 2019 9:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Senate Judiciary Committee is apparently interested in moving forward with the so-called TITLE Act (S.1889). The proposed bill would require states to collect personal/private information (including: name, date of birth, address, driver’s license numbers, etc.) from anyone with an ownership stake (i.e., “beneficial ownership”) of small businesses at incorporation; as well as require annual and periodic updates of that information. It has been estimated it will create a new reporting burden for over 5 million small businesses.  Failure to comply with this legislation would result in up to 3 years in prison and $1 million in fines.

    This bill would also allow the personally identifiable information of business owners submitted to the states to be subpoenaed by Congressional Chairman for any reason, and would allow State’s the authority to publicly post the information.  No doubt this information can be used to name and shame small businesses out of political activity. Although, right now the legislation is targeted at “small businesses” if passed it could be a vehicle to extend the same requirements to non-publicly held larger businesses across the United States, for this reason CIRT has joined a coalition of business groups, organizations, and associations voicing strong opposition to creating yet another data bank for outsiders to use or hack for nefarious, criminal, or political purposes. [For details see, Joint Letter on the matter].


  • Tue, September 17, 2019 9:42 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign into a law a far-reaching landmark bill requiring California companies (and those doing business in the state) to designate freelancers or independent contractors as employees.  The legislation seeks to extend labor protections and employee benefits like health care, overtime, and minimum wage to many workers formerly considered contractors. If and when signed, the measure would go into effect January 1, 2020.

    The legislation is intended to codify a 2018  CA state Supreme Court ruling that said contract workers were entitled to the benefits of regular employees. The court decision created the “ABC” test to help classify workers in California. The test is far stricter than federal regulations for determining employment status. It states that a worker can only be considered an independent contractor if they are: free from the “control and direction” of the company they work for; performing work that is “outside the course” of the company’s usual business; and have their own independently established trade, occupation or business.

    Fortunately, for many CIRT members the bill explicitly exempts some occupations, including: doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers, accountants, architects and realtors.  HOWEVER, it appears to be silent as to “construction” and construction related employment situations which often may rely on independent contractors to deliver projects. To determine whether or not these arrangements are affected, the “ABC” test for determining employment status in California will have to be applied.

  • Tue, August 13, 2019 1:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    While the design and construction community has been offering proposals promoting comprehensive infrastructure initiatives (see, CIRT’s Strategic Vision on Infrastructure), it has also urged passage of more traditional vehicles like a transportation bill.  To that end, before leaving on summer recess the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee approved a five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill. While the overall proposal ramps-up spending, it does not offer any increase in user-tax revenue. As a result, the bill calls for spending $287 billion over five years, a 28 percent increase over the previous authorization without any clear revenue enhancements or increases. [To be clear, in the Senate the Finance Committee is where tax increases must come from; but, it has been no sign of any coordination between EPW and Finance on this subject, nor have any serious revenue proposals been floated or discussed to date].

    As in most massive pieces of legislation, the bill is a combination of improvements, non-starters, and missing elements.  The Reasons Foundation points out the EPW Committee’s proposal suffers from these same maladies.  As they note:

    (a) Good Elements.  The bill: (1) expands current federal efforts to encourage states (and groups of states) to do pilot programs testing how to implement mileage-based user fees (MBUFs) to replace declining fuel tax revenues in coming decades; (2) it includes innovative financing, expands the categories of projects eligible for TIFIA loans and includes some attempts at much-needed streamlining; (3) a section would codify Exec. Order 13807, which established the One Federal Decision program to speed federal approvals for major projects; (4) another would provide a new congestion relief program for urban areas, offering grants for projects that would toll all lanes of a congested Interstate (Pricing required to be consistent with the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution); and finally, (5) Section 1507 would require states that do Design Build Finance Operate Maintain (DBFOM) public-private partnership (P3) projects to report to the United State Department of Transportation (US DOT) on the terms of the deal, which sounds harmless to me, and the increased transparency could reduce the hesitancy of some legislatures and DOTs to embrace this important procurement method.

    (b) Not So Good Elements. The bill: continues the ongoing trend of making the federal highway and transit program ever-more detailed and focused on every level of government (federal, state and local), disregarding the sensible principle of allowing each jurisdictional level to concentrate and/or be left to do what it prioritizes and is best suited to do. For example, it (a) increases spending on “transportation alternatives” that draw money away from basic needs to fund such options such as – local infrastructure for bikeways, recreational trails, sidewalks, etc. including expansion of the “Safe Routes to School” program for high schools; (b) would divert highway user tax revenue to waterway projects (Sec. 1115, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program would now include projects to modernize a lock, dam, or marine highway, and the new National Highway Freight Program (NHFP) would be able to do likewise); and (c) the new climate-change provisions in Sec. 1401, there are grants for EV recharging and alternative fuel services along designated “alternative fuel corridors,” but none are located on the Interstates, where these services are most needed.

    (c) Missing Elements: The bill does not include: (a) Private Activity Bonds (PABs) -- the $15 billion cap that Congress legislated over a decade ago is nearly used up, and the program is no longer an experiment. The cap should be removed, making surface transportation PABs comparable to those used for other infrastructure, such as airports and seaport facilities, for which there is no cap. [In addition, as recommended last year by the White House infrastructure proposal, PABs should be made applicable to P3s to rebuild and modernize existing infrastructure, rather than just for new (greenfield) P3 projects]. (Note: the Senate Finance Committee, may take this up as part of its jurisdiction); (b) Tolling flexibility: With nearly a dozen states discussing or considering toll-financed projects to rebuild aging Interstate highways and bridges, removing the 1956 ban on using toll financing on these facilities is missing, and (c) P3 incentives: Both the White House proposal and ARTBA’s recommendations for the 2020 reauthorization bill include various federal incentives for states to enact workable P3 enabling acts and to actually use them for much-needed projects.

  • Wed, July 31, 2019 2:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Opportunity America Coalition, which CIRT is an active member, joined a panel to highlight the importance of what is commonly referred to as “workforce” Pell Grants to address current business and economic needs.  The event was hosted by the U.S. Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus, under the topic of “Short-Term Job-Focused College Programs.”  As noted during the conversation: “Some of the most innovative and effective career education available today is at community colleges, and programs are often shorter than a semester – just long enough to learn the skills needed to get a job or a better job. Shorter offerings can be particularly appealing to older students and those juggling work, school and family. They’re also popular with employers struggling to fill jobs in a tight labor market.”  However, it was pointed out, under current law students enrolled in shorter programs are not eligible for Pell Grants.

    The JOBS Act was introduced in the Senate to address this gap, by identifying ways to qualify short, job-focused programs offered on college campuses; so their costs can be covered for the students under the Pell Grant program. The proposed Act would likely be included as a title or portion of the bill reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. [See, CIRT’s story on the JOBS Act for more details].

    White House:  In further developments, CIRT raised the importance of passing the JOBS Act with senior representatives from the White House, seeking the Administration’s support in not only promoting passage but also the President’s signature once passed.

  • Tue, July 02, 2019 12:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Senate HELP Committee is expected to include some form of the so-called “workforce Pell” in its forthcoming draft of legislation reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. One promising model for this provision is the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act. Cosponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), the JOBS Act would make federal financial aid available to students seeking streamlined workforce education and training by allowing Pell funding for programs shorter than a semester that meet labor market needs and lead to credentials recognized by employers.

    Adding momentum, there’s now a House companion bill – H.R. 3497, the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act – is identical to the Senate bill extending Pell Grant funding to short, job-focused community college education and training. [Original cosponsors in the House include: Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-LA-02); Andy Levin (D-MI-09); Steven Horsford (D-NV-04); Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH-16); Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA-03); and John Katko (R-NY-24)].

    Member RESOURCE:

    As Congress considers new funding for short-term, job-focused community college education and training, the coalition CIRT is a member of, Opportunity America, is releasing a new report examining programs that could become eligible for federal financial aid – An Unknown Landscape: Short-Term Job-Focused College Programs. [The Report includes in part: What kinds of short, job-focused programs are being offered on college campuses? How do students currently cover costs? How are short-term programs held accountable? The analysis is amassed from visiting eight colleges in four states to answer these and other questions]. Its principal finding: there is strong demand for short job-focused programs among students and employers. Educators on all eight campuses said their offerings are meeting local labor market need but far from satisfying it, and if additional federal funding were available, more could be done to train workers for local jobs.

    Opportunity America is a Washington-based nonprofit promoting economic mobility – work, skills, careers, ownership and entrepreneurship for poor and working Americans. The organization’s principal activities are research, policy development, dissemination of policy ideas and working to build consensus around policy proposals.


  • Wed, April 10, 2019 7:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Both the U.S. Senate and House Education Committees have started work on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which determines eligibility for some $122 billion a year in federal financial aid for college students – mostly student loans and grants, including Pell Grants. HEA reauthorization will be a sprawling, contentious debate, and workforce education will be only one issue among many. An important bi-partisan proposal in the discussion has been offered by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) – introduced as a stand-alone bill, the JOBS Act, but intended ultimately as an amendment to HEA – that would free-up significant support for short job training programs offered at community colleges.

    A bill introduced yesterday by Indiana Republicans Sen. Mike Braun and Rep. Jim Banks purports to serve the same purpose – funding for short community college job training programs. But that bill is considerably narrower than the JOBS Act – it would fund far fewer programs and only on a temporary basis. This could ultimately undermine or erode support for the broader more favorable expanse of the JOBS Act.  If you are interested in this legislation, please contact your members of the Senate, especially those on the Senate HELP Committee.

    [For a more detailed explanation of the two bills, see attached comparison].

  • Wed, April 10, 2019 7:50 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Over 100 business groups came out in support today of new legislation to make permanent the 20-percent pass-through deduction.  Introduced by Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), the "Main Street Certainty Act of 2019" (S. 1149) -- is the companion bill to H.R. 216, bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Jason Smith (R-MO) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX) in the House of Representatives. The new, 20-percent deduction was a key part of the big tax reform bill enacted back in 2017. The deduction was designed to balance out the tax treatment of pass-through businesses with the lower, 21-percent tax rate paid by C corporations. As an EY study from last year made clear, the deduction works to level the playing field, but only for those business that get the full deduction.

    The challenge is that the deduction is scheduled to expire in 2026, at which time taxes on pass-through businesses would go up. This tax hike is due to the fact that while most of the individual provisions in tax reform, including the Section 199A deduction, expire beginning 2026, many of the revenue raising provisions applied to the business community remain in place, including the new cap on interest deductibility and the repeal of the old manufacturing deduction.  The Daines/Smith-Cuellar bills would prevent this tax hike on Main Street businesses.

  • Tue, April 02, 2019 5:29 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As part of the Opportunity America Jobs and Careers Coalition efforts to move forward talent/workforce issues at the federal policy level, members of the coalition met to map-out strategies to garner Administration support. Currently, debate on the Higher Education Act (HEA) is heating up, which will give the coalition a chance to weigh-in on issues most relevant to the design/construction community such as: workforce Pell, the College Transparency Act, and the White House’s workforce and legislative priorities. Also on the table is the White House interests, lead by Ivanka Trump, on industry-recognized apprenticeship.  Finally, the coalition has also voiced its interest in a potential workforce angle to the infrastructure debate. 

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