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Legislative News

  • 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. 

  • Thu, March 14, 2019 3:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The multi-year PLO coalition of design and construction organizations has once again raised the banner to resist mandatory federal policy on project labor agreements, that endorses a one-size fits all approach to this complex matter.  The coalition, which CIRT is a member, has been active in the past few weeks signaling to the President its opposition to mandatory, or presumptive use of, PLOs on all federal projects (even potentially federally funded projects), consist with it long held views on the subject (see, letter to POTUS).  In addition, a coalition letter in support of the introduction of the “Fair and Open Competition Act” (bill numbers TBD) by Rep. Ted Budd (NC) and Sen. Todd Young (IN); is being drafted for distribution to key Congressional members. (Link to bill details here).

    The new legislative vehicle (only 7-pages) is the same as the coalition supported bill against government-mandated project labor agreements introduced in the last Congress (which had more than 100 cosponsors and was reported out favorably by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – when it was chaired by the Republicans at the time). 

  • Fri, March 08, 2019 3:32 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    While infrastructure remains a central bipartisan goal, with the House Democrats vowing to introduce legislation in the coming weeks; the long sort after illusive consensus on how to pay for the package is lacking at this time. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told Bloomberg BNA this week: “[W]hile everybody wants to invest in infrastructure, it is more problematic from many perspectives of how you pay for that.”

    The Democrat led effort wants a “traditional” funding plan that is likely to include more federal spending than the one put forth by President Trump; with groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Society of Civil Engineers endorsing a hike in the gas tax by 25 cents over the next five years. Whereas, the President and his Republican allies in Congress favor a variety of alternative funding approaches that include: states, localities, and the private sector supplying most of the $1.5 trillion cost for building new roads, bridges and other public works projects. This approach would include a more modest federal expenditure of some $200 billion over a decade in support of the alternative spending sources and levels.

    Aside from the funding mechanism, Democrats are likely to want an infrastructure bill to include other more controversial provisions that promote clean energy and combat climate change, which could also be a non-starter for President Trump and Republican lawmakers.

  • Mon, March 04, 2019 4:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Next week, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on (H.R. 1),  a piece of legislation that critics contend will likely “gut free speech and advocacy rights.”  CIRT has joined a coalition of organizations including the U.S. Chamber, to voice fundamental constitutional and election advocacy concerns regarding this piece of legislation.  (View a fact sheet on H.R. 1 by clicking here & the Coalition Letter here.)

    The disingenuously named “For the People Act of 2019 takes the worst ideas out of past discredited proposals like the DISCLOSE Act, and builds upon them, such as:

    • imposes new regulations on political speech by all Americans – especially by businesses and business organizations,
    • federalizes many aspects of election law currently under the jurisdiction of states, and
    • makes significant changes to the rules surrounding lobbying and advocacy.

    CIRT is opposed to the imposition of these unnecessary and highly corrosive effects on free speech, especially political speech, which is the most sacred under the constitution.

  • Fri, February 08, 2019 1:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In an op-ed penned by Elaine L. Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, she reiterates the vital nature of a robust modern infrastructure in the United States, saying in part “infrastructure is an issue that has potential for bipartisan consensus in Washington. Leaders in both parties recognize that infrastructure needs to be a priority.”  With that the Secretary commits the President to this matter saying the “Trump administration stands ready to help get this job done, for Americans today and for the generations to come.”

    The scope of our infrastructure needs, (beyond the obvious roads, bridges, tunnels, and other modes of transport) includes such disperse challenges as “seaports and inland waterways essential for commerce,  . . . ” as well as electric grids, pipelines, and a myriad of other assets. The Secretary noting that: “President Trump also believes our country must invest in cutting-edge technologies that promise to shape our world for years to come, such as a secure 5G network, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and rural broadband.”  The failure to do “anything” is shark, insufficient or failing infrastructure can impede our economic growth, while impacting the quality of life enjoyed by all Americans.

    But, the challenge is not just finding sufficient funding, it also includes addressing : “Government red tape delays, and sometimes denies, needed infrastructure improvements. The Trump administration is committed to streamlining government permitting and approval processes so that infrastructure projects can be delivered more quickly.”

    Fortunately, there seems to be little doubt, that: “[t]here is considerable interest on both sides of the aisle in considering infrastructure legislation in the coming year.”

    For a full version of Secretary Chao’s op-ed go to: https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/transportation-secretary-chao-dems-and-gop-should-join-with-trump-to-fund-infrastructure-improvements

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