U.S. construction stakeholders congratulate Biden, reiterate policy priorities

Journal of Commerce | Don Wall | November 11, 2020

US construction industry stakeholders have congratulated President-Elect Joe Biden for his election win and called for healing while urging the new administration to implement key campaign promises such as rebuilding infrastructure.

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), the Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) and North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) issued statements after the U.S. reached a shaky consensus on Nov. 7 that Biden had won the presidential election over incumbent President Donald Trump.

AED president and CEO Brian McGuire stated the association looks forward to working with the Biden administration and the incoming 117th Congress “to enact AED’s pro-growth, job-creating policy agenda” while NABTU president Sean McGarvey said, “Struggling American families have suffered too long through broken promises of the current administration.

“During this tumultuous time with a severe and growing pandemic, existing economic crisis with millions of Americans out of work, and our country’s divisiveness, NABTU looks forward to the calm, responsible, and forward-thinking leadership of a Biden administration,” McGarvey added.

The congratulatory statement from the AGC of America included a dozen policy priorities.

Brian Turmail, vice-president for public affairs for the AGC of America, said in an interview the contractors hoped Biden would come through on pledges where Trump did not.

“In terms of what we can expect that can help support broader economic prosperity and improve our economy, first is investment in infrastructure, something the president-elect has talked quite a bit about, and related to that specifically we want a long-term highway and transit bill with additional funding,” said Turmail.

The Trump administration’s failure to deliver on infrastructure called to mind the Charlie Brown comic strip in which Lucy continually pulled the football away just as Charlie Brown attempted a kick, he said.

“That’s what the last four years have felt like for us for infrastructure funding,” Turmail commented. “There’s was a whole lot of talk, there was a whole lot of infrastructure weeks…we had some modest successes in investment in infrastructure but compared to what was a primary campaign platform for President Trump, one of his promises, we never did see the kind of infrastructure investment that was promised. Certainly, that was a disappointment.”

Regarding the highway and transit bill, Turmail explained the previous six-year instalment had ended with an extra year tagged on with a modest funding increase. The AGC wants a new six-year deal.

“We want an increased level of funding so we can modernize what is an increasingly aging system,” he said.

In the absence of a federal plan, some states have come through with their own infrastructure pledges but that has left a patchwork across the country, Turmail explained.

“In the face of a federal abdication of responsibility we saw a good number of states enact their own infrastructure investment allowing them to improve their aging and overused infrastructure but there were states that weren’t able or didn’t consider passing infrastructure funding increases. So depending on where you are, your investment is either holding steady or getting slightly better or falling further behind. No one is getting ahead of the curve.”

The AED statement also mentioned infrastructure in arguing that the country can’t afford more gridlock and inaction.

“Democrats and Republicans must come together to provide long-overdue investments to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, maintain a capital investment incentivizing tax code and develop the next generation of skilled workers. The future prosperity of the United States hangs in the balance,” stated the AED release.

Turmail also cited the need for skilled workers as a key to future productivity.

“We also expect we will be able to work with the president-elect on key workforce priorities, including immigration reform, which has been a longstanding priority for our association,” he said. “And we hope the president will make increased investments in the craft workforce, the federal Perkins Act which funds career and technical education in the U.S.

“That serves two purposes. It exposes young people to careers in construction and it also provides pre-construction skills for workers that make them more attractive to be hired. With over 16 million out of work, and the construction sector poised to rebuild our economy, we want to make sure people who are out of the workforce have an opportunity to come into high-paying construction careers.”

Other issues the AGC identified included liability reforms that would protect contractors and others from “frivolous” COVID-related lawsuits, and the need for another round of paycheque protection program loans.