BY A.D. THOMPSON
An unprecedented global pandemic, civil unrest, record-level partisanship and the most polarizing president in American history will all factor big when Americans head to the polls in November.
As the nation strives for economic recovery amid spiking COVID-19 numbers, the potential impact of the upcoming election cycle looms large for constructors with an eye on future projects — and profits. Involvement in the process is the key to making a difference in the outcomes, says Stephen Sandherr, CEO of AGC of America. And members need look back no further than the start of the outbreak for the proof.
“We’re constantly trying to get [members] to engage with us in getting our messages to Washington and when the industry was threatened with being shut down in March and April, we had record activity on our online grassroots mechanism to contact the White House and members of Congress, asking them to designate construction an essential business so they could continue to build their projects.”
There were more responses to this call-to-action, says Sandherr, than to all of 2019’s requests combined.
“Fear is a powerful thing,” says Sandherr. “The thought that all construction projects could be shut down…? It was a high-motivating factor for our members to be engaged, and we hope the takeaway from the experience is the ease with which they can engage their congressman or senator, simply by entering their zip code.”
If so, he believes, members will be primed to engage on other matters in the future. And the election is right around the corner …
WE’VE GOT ISSUES.
Few statements could ring truer in 2020. And, say AGC sources — there’s a lot at stake.
For example, says David Ashinoff, AGC’s director of political affairs, “Roll back of Trump administration environmental reforms including the AGC-backed One Federal Decision, which establishes a streamlined, coordinated and timely process for environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects and also reduces the permitting process from an average of seven years down to two.”
So, too, he says, is there potential for “re-introduction of Obama-era regulations like restrictions on reasonable drug testing and greenhouse gas performance measurements of construction equipment,” among others.
|Be prepared for Election Day. |
Visit AGC’s get-out-and-vote action center at https://advocacy.agc.org/vote.
It’s essential, says Sandherr, to continue the momentum on regulatory reform, “so we can continue to get rid of or ban regulations that would have the potential to slow down or cancel construction projects.”
Continuing to showcase the importance of infrastructure investment is also front-of-mind. It is for John Carlson, DBIA and senior vice president — strategic business officer for Sundt Construction, Inc., a member of multiple chapters, in part the Federal Highway Bill, a five-year plan that’s set to expire soon — with no new plan in sight.
“These delays … they’re not good for industry,” says Carlson. “The states need to know what they’re getting over a longer period of time so they can plan versus the year-by-year resolutions that have been passed in recent times.”
What else looms large? As always, taxes and policies that foster growth.
Members need to be concerned about policy implementation that would hurt the construction industry and the national economy, Ashinoff says. “This includes the possibility of seeing the corporate tax rate go from 21 to 28 percent … a repeal of the Qualified Business Income Deduction, among many others.”
“The Democratic candidate for president has already said that he wants the individual rates to go back to 39.6 percent or more,” says Sandherr. “And AGC still has a large percentage of member companies that pay the personal rate — as they are organized as pass-through entities, and that has a significant impact on them.”
Some members, he notes, may recall that prior to 2017 the effective tax rate for construction was 31 percent.
“We were the highest,” he says. “And it would likely go back to that area.”
Concerns over AGC-opposed legislation, says Ashinoff, are genuine if there is “an elimination of the U.S. Senate filibuster rule, which would allow for easy passage of the PRO Act, with a simple majority vote.”
Sandherr calls this piece of legislation “the AFL-CIO’s wish list of the past 50 years.”
TOUGH TO PREDICT
At press time, COVID-19 was still in full swing. Voter turnout is still a question mark.
“In 2018, they went to the polls in record numbers and the country recorded its highest voter turnout percentage for a midterm election since 1914,” Ashinoff points out. “However the same cannot be said of this year’s Presidential primaries.”
Coronavirus, too, he points out, has affected virtually every aspect of American society.
“In multiple polls taken this summer, voters cite the coronavirus pandemic as one of the top issues facing the country,” says Ashinoff. In a recent Hill-HarrisX poll, 30 percent of respondents ranked it their most pressing concern.
“Having that front and center in voters’ minds is bad news for President Trump, good news for former Vice President Biden,” Ashinoff opines, citing polls in which the president shows poorly for the ways in which he’s handled the crisis. If the trend continues, “[the President] could face a backlash from voters in November that may spill over into down-ballot races since split-ticket voting has increasingly declined over the past few decades.”
WHAT CAN MEMBERS DO?
Vote. That’s first and foremost.
“And it is especially important to elect leaders willing to work for common-sense solutions to the challenges facing the construction industry,” Ashinoff offers, urging members to educate themselves and their employees about the issues they’re facing — right down to the state and local level.
That’s where AGC members will often see the most definitive impact says Doug Maibach, chairman, Barton Malow Enterprises, a member of multiple AGC chapters. And what helps is getting in alignment.
“It’s fascinating talking to those who are running for or serving in elected office, to note the differences between those who have a business background and those whose backgrounds are more socioeconomic/political science/theoretical,” says Maibach.
The former is in the minority, he says, “but business owners — in particular small-business owners — are the majority employers in this nation. Having elected people who represent us understand the impacts that their decisions can have on employers is key to me.”
As such, business ownership — and lacking that, leadership experience in companies — are qualifications that he says are key in a candidate, and often matter the most at the state and local level.
“Because those candidates can help us work in concert with government to provide the opportunities that we do — and that’s a good thing. When we work in opposition — it’s not.”
He recalls a former employee who spoke frequently and passionately about an ecology club in which she was involved, and all the good this group did in the community.
|TOP RACES. AGC PICKS.|
AZ: Sen. Martha McSally-R vs. former astronaut Mark Kelly -D
CO: Sen. Cory Gardner-R vs. former Gov. John Hickenlooper -D
ME: Sen. Susan Collins-R vs. State House Speaker Sara Gideon-D
MT: Sen. Steve Daines-R vs. Gov. Steve Bullock-D
NC: Sen. Thom Tillis-R vs. former state Senator Cal Cunningham-D
GA: 6 — Former Rep. Karen Handel-R vs. Rep. Lucy McBath-D
IL: 13 — Rep. Rodney Davis-R vs. Betsy Dirksen Londrigan-D
NE: 2 — Rep. Don Bacon-R vs. Kara Eastman-D
OR: 4 — Rep. Peter DeFazio-D vs. Alek Skarlatos-R
TX: 7 — Wesley Hunt-R vs. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher-D
“Until they showed up at the gate of one of our construction projects and she couldn’t go to work,” he notes. “She very quickly realized, ‘the choices I make and the causes I support can impact my employer — and therefore me — directly and quickly. I need to look at those things and get into better alignment.’”
Maibach believes the same holds true for candidates. “We need to look for where we have those alignments, so we can work together to accomplish the most good.”