The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 10, 2015

News Briefs

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

Senate Passes Bill to Fix Roads

LANSING – Well, half of the state's government now has a plan to fix the roads.
The Michigan Senate on July 1, using a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Bryan Calley, passed a 15-cent increase in the state's gas tax, which would raise $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion a year for road repairs.

The fuel tax hike on gasoline and diesel would be phased in over three years, with 4-cent hikes on Oct. 1, 2015, and Jan. 1, 2016, and a 7-cent increase on Jan. 1, 2017.

“It’s important that we advance the interests of fixing our roads,"  Calley told the Lansing State Journal. "And moving a package out of the Senate was critical aspect of that. This was a step I felt was necessary to really get to a final compromise.”

The legislation now goes to the state House, where passage is far from certain: GOP leadership has shown little appetite for a tax increase for road work or for anything else. The legislation also has a poison pill that gave it zero support from Senate Democrats, it contains a requirement that $350 million from income tax revenues be shifted from the general fund in 2015-16 and $700 million in 2016-17. There were no details on where that money would come from, but there were rumblings that it would from eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit - a tax break for low-income people.

“I want to fix the roads as much as all of you. I’m more than willing to sit down and find a solution,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr., D-East Lansing. “We can’t fill potholes on the backs of working men and women.”

The House will be back in session July 14 to take up the roads bill, but there's likely going to be plenty of back and forth until, and if, a roads package is settled. The House version of road funding depends on spending some $700 million in potential future growth in the state's economy, which Dems have criticized as an accounting fantasy.

Lowest jobless level in construction since '01

Construction employment held steady in June at the highest level in six years, while the number of unemployed workers with construction experience fell to the lowest total since 2001, according to an analysis released July 2 by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said that the new data indicates contractors are having a hard time finding enough qualified workers to meet growing demand in many parts of the country.

"Expanding job opportunities throughout the economy make it increasingly difficult for contractors to find experienced construction workers," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "This scarcity shows up in record workweeks for craft workers and flattening of employment totals despite higher construction spending."

Construction employment totaled 6.38 million in June, matching the revised May figure, which was the highest since March 2009, Simonson noted. Unemployment dropped to 522,000, the lowest since 2001, and average weekly hours for construction craft workers and other "production and nonsupervisory employees" rose to 39.9 hours, the highest June level since the series began in 1947.

"Reports from around the country and recent Census Bureau data on construction spending show there is plenty of demand for new construction, especially apartments and a variety of private nonresidential projects," Simonson said. "Until now, all segments of the industry have added workers at a faster rate than the overall economy. But some projects may be delayed or put on hold without new measures to recruit and prepare future workers."  fashion."