While final vote presidential votes tallies are still being calculated amid legal challenges, leaders of design and construction firms should prepare for how the new Biden presidency will impact the construction industry.
From regulations and taxes, to renewable energy, infrastructure spending and immigration, the Biden administration will have a profound impact on the construction industry. As expected, views on how the Biden administration will impact construction are mixed.
According to a recent survey of construction executives by Construction Dive, the majority of construction leaders are concerned about how the industry will be impacted by a Biden administration. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents (61%) said they are not looking forward to a Biden presidency, and 55% said Biden will not be good for the construction industry.
The regulatory environment is one of the primary concerns from construction leaders. The Donald Trump administration aggressively cut rules and regulations to reduce the burden on construction firms. Increasing regulations can be achieved without Congressional consent via actions by federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
One reader told Construction Dive, “Biden has a history of heavy handed regulatory oversight including OSHA, EPA, IRS, etc.” Much of what Trump has done to relax the regulatory burden will likely be undone by Biden, increasing the cost of doing business. Regulations hostile to non-union contractors will also become problematic again at the expense of taxpayers and benefiting the single-digit number of union employees compared to all employees.”
The Associated General Contractors (AGC), issued a statement welcoming Biden and newly elected members of Congress, and looked forward to helping “craft an agenda that is focused in rebuilding infrastructure and reviving the national economy.”
For AGC, a top priority is legislation funding road construction and maintenance. The FAST Act (short for Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) is set to expire at the end of 2020 and the Highway Trust Fund that makes federal money available for road and mass transit projects is on the verge of becoming insolvent due to a long-standing tax freeze on petrol and diesel sales.
Other items on AGC’s agenda are a long-term highway and transit law, liability reform that “protects honest firms from frivolous coronavirus lawsuits,” and tax and credit measures to stimulate economic growth and demand for construction.
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR), says he looks forward to a real “Infrastructure Week” under a Biden administration after four years of broken promises from the Trump administration.
“Despite all his talking and tweeting about investing in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, President Donald Trump’s most significant contribution to the conversation on infrastructure was turning ‘Infrastructure Week’ into a running joke,” DeFazio said in a statement. “As a result, the American people got four years of worsening congestion, increased carbon pollution and further decline in the state of our roads, bridges, public transit and more.”
DeFazio added, “The President-elect has made it clear he is ready to work with Congress to deliver results for all Americans with bold investments in infrastructure that help everyone, from large metro areas dealing with unreliable transit and soon to be jam-packed highways, to rural communities that suffer from bridges in poor condition and deteriorating roads. And of course, ‘Amtrak Joe’ and I share the goals of a robust national rail network and turning the transportation sector — the number one contributor to carbon pollution in the U.S. — into one that is clean, efficient, reliable and resilient to extreme weather events. President-elect Biden plans to ‘Build Back Better,’ and that’s exactly what our nation needs to move our infrastructure into the 21st century while creating millions of family wage jobs, supporting U.S. manufacturing, and harnessing American engineering and ingenuity. I can’t wait to get started.”
During the campaign, the Biden campaign stated, “We’ve seen the need for a more resilient economy for the long-term, and that means investing in a modern, sustainable infrastructure and sustainable engines of growth — from roads and bridges, to energy grids and schools, to universal broadband.”
According to a recent article in Engineering News Record (ENR), former Deputy U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari told attendees of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) annual meeting on Nov. 12 that the Biden administration is likely to seek an increase in funding for current programs.
Porcari said the plan would likely include added funds for existing core federal programs with funds distributed by formula. ENR reported Porcari was upbeat about the outlook for a major transportation investment push, possibly starting early in 2021. “There are real prospects for a bipartisan, broad infrastructure program,” he said. “It’s no secret to anybody that President-elect Biden has long been an advocate of infrastructure. He feels it in his bones….You certainly have a willing partner in the President-elect.”
Sean McGarvey, the president of North America’s Building Trade Unions welcomed the Biden-Harris administration and urged it to address the broken promises of the Trump administration. “During this tumultuous time, with a severe and growing pandemic, existing economic crises 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,” said McGarvey.
Other construction leaders expressed concern over climate change, restricting fossil fuels and provisions of the Green New Deal supported by Biden. Lauren Maunus, legislative and advocacy manager at the Sunrise Movement, told the Washington Post one of the group’s main concerns was making sure no one in Biden’s Cabinet has ties to fossil fuel companies. “First and foremost, we want to make sure that people are in office who are aligned with the type of action that we need and that Biden was elected on,” she said.
As part of his “Build Back Better” program, Biden released a plan committing to spend $2 trillion over four years that will put the United States “on an irreversible course to meet the ambitious climate progress that science demands.” That spending includes investments in infrastructure, the auto industry, mass transit, electric utilities, housing and buildings, agriculture and conservation, research and development, and environmental justice.
Brian Turmail, vice-president for public affairs for AGC, said the contractors hoped Biden would come through on pledges where Trump did not according to ConstructionConnect.
“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.
“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 a release from the Associated Equipment Dealers (AED).
AED President and CEO Brian McGuire said 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.”
“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,” McGuire 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.