Stimulus Bill Impact On The Nation

ARTBA Announces Policy & Promotion Council

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) has begun operation of a new industry advocacy group under the association’s umbrella—the Bridge Policy & Promotion Council. The BPPC was created to help boost investment, oversee policy development, promote improved project delivery methods, showcase new products and technologies, enhance industry communications and educate the public.

“The Bridge Policy & Promotion Council is aimed at breaking down barriers that exist in the U.S. bridge market,” BPPC Chairman Bob Luffy said. “While there certainly is a need for ‘product specific’ groups and technical forums in our market, what has been missing is the organizational structure and program that brings the bridge industry together to push for greater investment and improvement of delivery methods.” Luffy, president and CEO of Coraopolis, PA based American Bridge Company, also serves as 2009 ARTBA Materials and Services Division president.

As a first order of business, the group is spearheading ARTBA’s activities to shape the bridge provisions in the next authorization of the federal surface transportation program, due by October 1, 2009. Members of the BPPC have already met with House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) and his staff to discuss bridge issues and program reforms as well as seeking support for ARTBA’s “Critical Commerce Corridors” (3C) goods movement program. If successful, the 3C initiative would facilitate the largest bridge construction program since the 1956 Interstate Highway System law.

Initial BPPC stakeholders include principals from: American Bridge Company, Figg Engineering Group, the Walsh Group, Granite Construction, HNTB, Skanska, Traylor Brothers, Flatiron, Parsons Brinckerhoff, CH2M HILL, the Vecellio Group and Corman Construction. A leadership team has already committed significant financial rsources over and above their dues to kick-off BPPC programs.

“If we want a stronger U.S. bridge program, we need to organize and push aggressively for it ourselves. No one else is going to do it for us,” added Bill Cox, president of Corman Construction, which partnered with Granite Construction on part of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge near the U.S. Capitol. “The Bridge Policy & Promotion Council is exactly what the bridge industry needs. By teaming with the political muscle of ARTBA, we can take the program to the next level—building a better market we can all compete in.”

The BPPC is led by seven “action teams:”

  • Market Promotion Team: to fund and develop public education, outreach and advocacy programs aimed at increasing federal, state and local bridge investments.
  • Policy Advisory and Government Liaison Team: to oversee bridge policy development, review and comment on proposed bridge-related legislation and regulations and to serve on liaison committees with federal agencies.
  • Financing and Funding Priorities Team: to facilitate discussion, understanding and refinement of financing methods used for bridge projects in the United States and to develop a “risk-based” approach for setting funding priorities.
  • Project Delivery Methods Team: to ensure private-sector involvement in the development and implementation of project delivery methods used for bridge projects in the United States.
  • Bridge Inspection Issues Team: to develop policy and training recommendations that upgrade bridge inspection standards.
  • New Technology Promotion Team: to organize webcasts, conference programs; exhibits and publications that showcase new bridge products and technologies before bridge owners, inspectors, designers, builders, government officials and legislators.
  • International Bridge Conference Team: to serve as the liaison committee with planners of the annual International Bridge Conference & Exhibition (IBC), including development of conference educational sessions and an awards program.
The Bridge Policy & Promotion Council is a collaborative opportunity to help accelerate the introduction and use of new ideas, products and technologies into the U.S. bridge market,” said Linda Figg, president and CEO of the Figg Engineering Group, and designer of the new I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, MN. “It provides the forum that brings major bridge companies together to achieve lasting and positive results for America’s infrastructure.”

Leadership and participation in the BPPC is open to ARTBA members—builders, designers, managers, financiers, researchers, public officials, equipment and materials companies. The first full Council meeting will be held in conjunction with the annual International Bridge Conference, scheduled for June 14-17 in Pittsburgh, Pa.

For more information or to sign-up to join the BPPC, please contact ARTBA’s Allison Wenograd at 202-289-4434 or awenograd@artba.org.

California Agrees To $143 Billion Budget But…

California’s budget agreement came after a record-long floor session of nearly 46 hours. Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, reluctantly agreed to a series of concessions to win the support of a single Republican senator, whose vote was necessary to reach the two-thirds majority required under state law for budget bills. All 75 Democrats in the Legislature voted for the budget agreement, along with 6 of the 44 Republicans in the two houses. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) said he would sign the agreement on Friday.

The pact contains $14.8 billion in spending cuts to public transit, health care, schools and the courts; $12.5 billion in tax increases; $5.4 billion in new borrowing; and the creation of a $1 billion reserve fund.

Personal income tax rates will rise by one-quarter of a percent, and the state sales tax will climb by 1 percentage point, to 6 percent, though each county will have different rates and the average will be 8.9 percent. The state’s vehicle license fee — which Mr. Schwarzenegger abolished in 2003 — will nearly double, to 1.15 percent of the value of the vehicle.

Left on the cutting-room floor was a proposed 12-cent increase in the gasoline tax; lawmakers filled the gap instead with $600 million in cuts and an infusion of federal stimulus money.

According to the budget documents, if the state receives what it predicts from the federal Stimulus Package — more than $9 billion — there would be other benefits to the budget: borrowing would be reduced by roughly half, $950 million in cuts would be restored and the tax increases would be reduced.

A deal was struck in the early hours on Thursday when Democratic lawmakers agreed to the majority of the demands made by the holdout Republican, Abel Maldonado (pictured at right, with Darrell Steinberg, the Senate president pro tem, after casting the deciding vote-photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP) of Santa Maria, who wanted state constitutional amendments banning legislative pay increases during deficit years and creating more competitive elections by establishing open primaries.

Obama Says Economic Stimulus Funds Mustn’t Be Wasted

President Barack Obama said his administration is requiring “unprecedented responsibility and accountability” as the government implements a $787 billion economic Stimulus Package enacted this week.

“The American people are watching,” Obama told a group of mayors at the White House. “They need this plan to work, and they expect to see the money they worked so hard to earn spent in its intended purposes without waste, without inefficiency, without fraud.”

The leaders of the U.S. Conference of Mayors cited as “major victories” $27.6 billion for highways, $8.4 billion to improve bus, rail and other forms of public transportation, $8 billion for high-speed rail and intercity passenger lines, $4 billion for clean-water programs, $4 billion for workforce training and almost $9 billion to upgrade schools, according to the group’s website.

Raul Salinas, mayor of Laredo, Texas, said many mayors are concerned about a delay in getting funds to cities.

Bureaucratic Process
“It’d be nice for mayors to get the money directly,” Salinas said at today’s event. “We are the problem-solvers. We need help in getting the money to us now” by easing the bureaucratic process.

Ron Dellums, a former California congressman who is now mayor of Oakland, said this is a widespread concern among mayors. He said many mayors raised this issue in a meeting Friday morning with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“Everybody is pretty upset,” said Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, California. “The president knows it.”

Obama, speaking in the White House’s East Room before the closed-door meeting, said the stimulus will “bring real and lasting change for generations to come,” while warning that he won’t tolerate the abuse of funds at the federal, state or local levels.

Call Them Out
“If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it, and put a stop to it,” he said. Americans are counting on government officials at all levels to use the money wisely and free of political strings and “personal agendas,” he said.

“On this I will not compromise or tolerate any shortcut,” he said. “The American people are looking to us now for leadership, and it’s up to us to reward their faith.”
Obama said he was assigning a team of managers “to ensure that every dollar is spent wisely,” and people can trace the money spent through www.Recovery.gov .

Several mayors said after their meeting with the president that they welcome his call for accountability. “We get called out every day at the local level,” said Miami Mayor Manuel Diaz, a Democrat who heads the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

About 30 mayors spoke with reporters on the White House driveway. When asked whether Obama’s goal of creating or saving as many as 4 million jobs within 18 months is achievable, many nodded and said “Yes!”

Wisconsin Industries Want Their Share Of The Stimulus Funds

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle said Wisconsin’s share of the stimulus plan should total about $3.5 billion, including:

  • $2 billion for Medicaid and for the “state stabilization fund,” some of which will go to local school districts and local governments.
  • $550 million for roads and bridges.
  • $90 million in education incentive grants (for schools).
  • $150 million to weatherize and improve energy efficiency of low and moderate-income homes.
Wisconsin also will receive funds for high-speed rail, improving university facilities, clean water, flood control, environmental restoration and alternative energy.

Ultimately, the stimulus could help southeastern Wisconsin fund a regional transit authority, launch the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) high-speed railroad service and provide a spark to the initiative to help build Milwaukee as America’s “Fresh Coast” for the freshwater science and industry.

The state of Wisconsin’s list of potential stimulus projects transcends a vast variety of industries and projects, including transportation, education, green alternative energy and health care.

Other money is set aside to assist in the health care industry’s transition to electronic medical records, dam repair, flood control reconstruction and the Great Lakes Clean Water Fund.

In addition, Wisconsin’s wish list includes $993.3 million for green alternative energy projects, including upgrading state vehicles to alternative fuel, state-owned power plant conversions from coal and investments in UW facility research efforts in alternative energy sources.

The Wisconsin Office of Recovery and Reinvestment was created in late January by Gov. Doyle to help disperse the state’s share of federal economic stimulus dollars. The office, led by Gary Wolter, chairman, president and CEO of Madison Gas and Electric Co., will operate more like a switchboard operator or traffic cop than a gatekeeper, Doyle said. Wolter will try to coordinate the activities of a variety of different entities that have to mobilize under the plan. “We (will) analyze the bill, look at the time frames and try to make sure that the state of Wisconsin is (geared) up for the money and uses the money within the time frame allotted under the bill,” said Wolter.

The following accounts for how some of Wisconsin industries and companies may stand to gain from the federal stimulus plan.

Transportation
If road projects such as highways, bridges and city streets are funded with the federal stimulus dollars, they will have some of the most significant effects on the economy, said Pat Goss, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builder’s Association.

“We’ve got a record number of people on unemployment who have been laid off and let go. I am confident this will accomplish what they want, and the long-term benefit of this will put people back to work,” Goss said.

Mike Sikma, vice president of Musson Bros. Inc., a Brookfield based contractor that serves road and highway construction, storm and sanitary sewers and other projects, agreed. The state of Wisconsin and its municipalities also have a large number of projects that
have been deferred over the years and could quickly be started with federal stimulus dollars, he said.

“I think that municipalities have some projects they always would have liked to get done and weren’t able to do,” Sikma said. “The DOT is probably in a similar fashion. Inflation did hold off on a few projects.”

Because of the slowdown in residential-related development, more companies will be interested in aggressively bidding for stimulus-related projects, Sikma said.

“You’re going to see more people getting into municipal work,” he said. “There will be more companies (looking for) the opportunity to pick up work lost over the last few years.”

Construction
Like transportation projects, building construction projects could help stimulate the economy because of their high wages and the large network of suppliers that support the industry, said Mike Fabishak, chief executive officer of Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee. While many construction companies are still busy with projects under construction, their pipelines are drying up, leading to projections for a slower late 2009 and 2010. A federal stimulus, if it includes money to either repair or construct new municipal buildings or schools, could help maintain the industry, he said.

“The concern is that much of the deterioration will probably manifest itself from the middle of this year out,” he said. “There is some work going on now, but we are seeing some layoffs in most of the crafts, particularly the basic trades like carpentry, bricklayers and cement. This is not only from my perspective, but from all of the (AGC) chapters around the country, we’re all thinking that this could be a viable stimulus to our industry at a time when we need it.”

John Hunzinger, president of Brookfield-based Hunzinger Construction Co., agreed. “Even if (there is stimulus money) not in construction, it’s just about trying to get the tide to come in,” he said. “There is a lot for infrastructure, which will indirectly have some effect on shoring up construction costs to some degree. We’re hoping for some opportunities for some (construction) support and some building opportunities.”

Large contractors winning projects also will provide work for subcontractors in the region.

Other Infrastructure
Non-transportation infrastructure projects such as sewers, power transmission and metering could also see some stimulus money. Some companies will see funding directly, while others could indirectly benefit from the stimulus package.

“Most of (the stimulus money for infrastructure) is for roads and bridges, but there is a piece for water infrastructure,” said Rich Meeusen, chairman, president and CEO of Milwaukee based Badger Meter Inc. “From Badger Meter’s point of view, if municipalities receive money for water mains and infrastructure, it will free up money for the purchase and upgrade of water meters. We will indirectly benefit.”

Other infrastructure-related projects also could benefit from federal stimulus dollars.

Earlier this month, ITC Holdings Corp. announced its plans to build a network of power transmission lines in Midwestern states, including Wisconsin. The network will connect wind power-producing areas such as the Dakotas to highly populated areas such as southern Wisconsin, Chicago and Minneapolis.

The project will install about 3,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and will cost $10 billion to $12 billion.

Higher Education
The University of Wisconsin system has a significant number of building improvement and new construction projects on its statewide list that are ready for construction, which could begin with short notice if there is funding in the economic stimulus package, said Carlos Santiago, chancellor of UW-Milwaukee.

“There are projects across the system – some are residence halls, some are academic facilities and some are student facilities like unions. The stimulus money could have tremendous value to the non-Madison campuses, because we don’t have the same leverage in terms of raising private dollars,” Santiago said.

UWM has requested about $90 million in federal stimulus funds, but expects to receive less, Santiago said. Much of the money it receives will go toward adding classroom and research space to its Great Lakes Water Institute. UWM also wants to commission a new $15 million research vessel to replace its approximate 55-year-old vessel named the Neeskay.

“The first priority on that list is the research vessel,” Santiago said. “We’ve got the specs, and design work is underway. All we’ve got to do is go to one of the shipbuilders in Wisconsin and say, ‘Build this.’”

UWM also plans to build a new headquarters for its School of Freshwater Sciences on the site of the former Pieces of Eight restaurant located across the street from Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin. A group of donors is now in negotiations to purchase the property, which would be leased back to the university, Santiago said.

The facility would be approximately 50,000 square feet and cost about $25 million, Santiago said. If built, it will also serve as headquarters for the Milwaukee 7’s Water Council, UWM’s Water Institute and would have room for offices for water conversation and advocacy groups. The building would be open to the public.

Solar/Alternative Energy
Wisconsin has positioned itself over the last few years very well in terms of alternative energy programs already in place and could capitalize on alternative energy elements of the stimulus package.

“If there is money made available to the state, Wisconsin should do quite well because we already have a well-organized marketplace,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.

Wisconsin has more full-service solar installers and more bio-gas programs than any other Midwestern state, he said. The stimulus plan also could result in more wind turbines being built in the state.

Architecture/Design
Architects and design professionals, who have seen significant layoffs in the economic downturn, could benefit from the economic stimulus if it contains incentives for new buildings or upgrades to existing structures.

Miami-Dade Mayors Scrutinize $787 Billion Stimulus Package

Mayors of cities in Northwest and North Central Miami-Dade are sifting through the stimulus legislation and prioritizing projects as they wait to hear how to get money.

Now that President Barack Obama has signed the $787 billion Stimulus Package, city leaders are scrambling to figure out what money is available to them and how to get some.

Because the fear is that most funds will likely be filtered through federal, state and county programs, leaders of South Florida cities such as Miami Lakes, Doral, Hialeah and Miami Gardens are not sitting around and waiting for the money to trickle down.

They are sifting through the legislation and prioritizing projects as they wait for word on whom to tap for the money. Supporters of the stimulus package say spending on new roads and bridges can help create jobs and revive the economy. And city leaders say that work starts locally.

”It’s the local cities that fix the potholes and provide for the elderly and the sick,” Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi said. “My concern is that if all that money goes directly to the state, the local residents are never going to see a penny of
it.” South Florida cities proposed billions of dollars in local infrastructure projects, including city halls, new drainage and roadwork.

All of those projects were included in a wish list assembled by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, led by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, that originally included $73 billion in requests from 427 cities. About $10 billion was in Miami-Dade County projects alone.

In Hialeah, the mayor and department heads are simply waiting for a signal to get started on some of the projects. ”We have many projects that are already planned with the actual building plans and ready to go,” said Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who expects to receive at least $6 million. “My goal is to bring as many construction jobs to the city as possible.” Hialeah asked the federal government for roughly $198 million in 16 projects, which it expects would create more than 7,000 jobs, mostly in construction. Robaina said a large portion of Hialeah’s population depends on construction jobs, directly and indirectly.

”It’s the carpenter, the electrician, but it’s also the guy who sells supplies to the carpenter and the electrician,” Robaina said. “If they’re making money, they’re going to the cafeterias and supermarkets and spending money.”

While he waits on the federal government to act, Robaina said he’s keeping a watch on money elsewhere. He visited Tallahassee last week to promote the city and raise money. ”The stimulus package is a one-time event. We don’t get another package next year,” Robaina said. “So I’m going to continue doing the things we’re doing.”

Miami Gardens has asked the federal government for about $100 million less than Hialeah for projects they say they can start in just 90 days or as late as one year from today.

Altogether, the projects could create as many as 3,000 jobs. They include a bridge replacement, landscaping and hiring extra police officers.

”That’s just a wish list,” said City Manager Danny O. Crew. “It’s probably not going to happen.” Crew said the city will likely receive about $3 million for the federal Neighborhood Stability Program, which provides emergency assistance to state and local governments to acquire and redevelop foreclosed properties. Miami Gardens has already received $6.7 million.

In Miami Lakes, a 10 member task force that consists of elected officials and business leaders met to study the legislation. The group narrowed down the town’s wish list to four projects.

Among those projects: between $5 and $10 million to open a Miami-Dade College campus that provides criminal justice program and environmental studies and between $5 and $10 million for a ”green” government building that includes a senior and youth center.

”If they’re not going to fund specific projects and give generalized grants, the idea was if we find projects that are multifaceted that gives us two or three separate shots at trying to get some funds,” Pizzi said.

”When this process ends I’d like to say we got some of these projects funded, but if we don’t I’d like to be able to look taxpayers in the eye and tell them we gave it our best shot,” Pizzi said.

Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez and more than 60 mayors from the U.S. Conference of Mayors met with Obama on Friday to request that funds go directly to cities.

”We as mayors continue to work to make sure this stimulus plan will include the possibility that municipal programs will be funded directly from the federal government to the municipalities,” Bermudez said.

Greg Sitek

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*