Real pressure cooker in Washington at the ARTBA Federal Issues Program and the TCC Fly-In. One of those cases where a series of factors collide. The numbers are bad, the Congress is sitting on its assumptions and apparently making precious little progress on a new surface transportation bill, transportation infrastructure work is about the same as last year, state and regional budgets are maxxed out, contractors are hurting and some frustrations are finding their way to the surface.
One at a time
Alison Premo Black, ARTBA vice-president of Policy and Senior Economist, says data from the first quarter of this year is so volatile it is not necessarily a bellwether for what’s to come. That may be a good thing; or a bad thing.
There are, she says, three main issues that dominate the landscape in this industry.
First of course is reauthorization. With a working piece of legislation behind about half of transportation construction and expenditures, the lack of one since SAFETEA-LU went into limbo in September of 2009, is hurting across the board. Obligations have slowed at a state level and contractors are reporting not as much work is being put out to bid ad they expected. and in some cases as much as they need
Secondly, state and local tax revenues. We are seeing a modest recovery, says Black, but we are not back to pre-recession (2007) levels. There is some general recovery in some states, “but not enough to change our outlook for this year,” which, she says, will look a lot like last year. Bonds, a major source of transportation funding, are down 62 percent over last year.
The third issue is the “spending out” of Stimulus funds. “ARRA spending will have very little impact in 2011,” says Black. But as states take over the spending done by the Stimulus, pavement projects will see a slowdown, she predicted. To date pavement awards are about were they were last year.
Tomorrow the attendees will visit Congressmen and Senators and their staff. Organizers of the Fly-In, (industry associations and other lobby groups) help attendees work out the best ways to present their case in the five to seven minutes they expect to have face-to-face. Mostly it’s about lost jobs and crumbling infrastructure and how a new bill could roll back some of these losses, heavily peppered with local examples. But I have talked to a number of contractors who say their frustration needs to be heard as well. One told a meeting he was, well, let’s say he said he was upset. “I am,” he said, “not going to be able to keep it in when I get to these meetings.” Remember Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”