The changing of the calendar fills some people with regret for missed opportunities, unfulfilled promises and unresolved challenges. But, for those with a more optimistic and practical nature, each January brings new opportunities to take well-thought-out action and get things right.
In general, electrical contractors are in the latter group. We believe in living up to our potential. We don’t allow challenges to go unmet for long. We keep on fighting, applying new and better tactics as needed, until we succeed.
Success-driven ECs show these characteristics in numerous manners, but I’d like to draw your attention to just one big way. Tenacity wins the day in the government affairs arena.
The 2013 battle over the fiscal cliff, minimal investment in infrastructure, uncertainty over tax rates, the looming impact of Obamacare, and no sign of regulatory relief for small businesses can easily be attributed to a particularly polarized Congress, chilly relations between the White House and Capitol Hill, and the highly politicized 2012 elections. Despite this harsh reality—and despite the fact that more contentious elections are coming up—NECA is optimistic that Congress and the White House will work together during the 113th Congress and try to put forward some constructive and necessary federal policies (a potential demonstrated by the December budget deal).
That’s why our association maintains a robust, demanding schedule, vigorously advocating for our key legislative and regulatory priorities: pension reform, healthcare, comprehensive tax reform, infrastructure investment and energy policy. Not only is NECA’s professional government affairs staff involved with these issues every day, but member contractors also take action when needed to get their points across to their senators and representatives in Congress.
Multiemployer pension reform is issue No. 1 for NECA. For more than two years, NECA has been part of the Retirement Security Review Commission, which published “Solutions Not Bailouts,” a proposal to reform the current pension system before the Pension Protection Act of 2006 expires at the end of 2014. The core principles of the proposal aim to protect retirement income security for participants and reduce or eliminate the financial risk to sponsoring employers.
NECA has been working to educate new members of Congress on the unique structure of multiemployer pension plans, while NECA-member and chapter executives who serve as trustees on local NECA/IBEW plans are engaged in the pension education efforts back home.
Over the past several months, NECA has worked vigorously to address numerous disruptive issues with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). There are several consequences of the failure to recognize multiemployer plans as qualified health plans in the law. NECA is greatly concerned with the numerous fees, taxes and regulatory burdens that have the potential to escalate costs substantially for healthcare. While efforts on Capitol Hill and with the administration are ongoing, NECA is also focused on supplying our members with the information they need to comply with the new regulations.
Regarding comprehensive tax reform, NECA has submitted comments to both the House and Senate committees identifying key issues that must be addressed, including adjusting the effective tax rates for large and small businesses based on the effect it would realistically have on their bottom line, reducing marginal rates, eliminating the estate tax and continuing to support tax incentives for energy-efficiency construction projects.
When it comes to infrastructure investment, there is a new reality that discretionary federal spending for roads, bridges, railways and ports is decreasing and is probably not coming back. Even a few states have taken the plunge into a business-centered view of infrastructure to fill the gap. Their activities delve into a wide world of availability payments, public-private partnerships, grants, loans and credit enhancement programs. The conventional wisdom is that, short of additional federal funding, these alternative financing methods can bring in new sources of private revenue for infrastructure. NECA is investigating these sources and is working with legislators and regulators to open more infrastructure projects.
Finally, NECA continues to encourage Congress to support several energy programs that promote development of all available energy resources, including upgrading and modernizing transmission lines, increasing domestic oil, expanding natural gas exploration, investing in nuclear power, and further investments in clean- and renewable-energy sources. Several bills that achieve these goals have been introduced in this Congress, and NECA has been involved in adjusting them to the benefit of the electrical construction industry and in garnering support from both Republicans and Democrats.
In other words, 2014 should provide ample opportunities to achieve legislative changes that benefit electrical contractors— if the legislators live up to their potential. And that means plenty of opportunities for ECs to make a difference!
Dennis F. Quebe, President, Neca