By Bowen Xiao
The CEO of a national trade association representing more than 21,000 members across the country says there’s a number of ideas and proposals in the $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan that would hurt taxpayers and those in the construction industry.
Michael D. Bellaman the President and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, said that while infrastructure is something in need of funding and repair, the projects, many of which relate to social infrastructure, seem to be “more politically driven.”
During a wide-ranging interview with The Epoch Times, Bellaman said the plan poses “real challenges” to the construction industry. There are the tax hikes on job-creating constructions firms (traditionally the highest taxed industry) who are still recovering from the pandemic.
“About 98 percent of construction companies employ less than 100 people,” he said. “These are family businesses, small businesses. Raising taxes takes out dollars that we’ve seen companies invest into their businesses.”
Then there’s President Joe Biden’s support of government-mandated project labor agreement schemes (PLA’s) that scraps open and fair competitive bidding on contracts to build taxpayer-funded construction projects. PLA’s are given mostly to unionized contractors and workforces. Bellaman noted that 87 percent of the construction industry employs non-union labor.
At the same time, the infrastructure plan calls on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which aims to “guarantee union and bargaining rights for public service workers.”
“Your essentially eliminating 87 percent of the construction companies that are betting on the work,” Bellaman told The Epoch Times. “I think that’s a huge, huge problem. Now by putting in the PRO Act, they’re basically trying to force all non-union labor to become union labor. It obviously eliminates worker choice.”
Construction companies should compete for the work on behalf of the American taxpayer, said Bellaman. “Raising taxes on companies and then not allowing those companies to compete—I don’t really think it’s fair,” he said.
The PLA’s don’t “make any kind of economic sense,” he added, noting that it drives up costs by 12–18 percent, which results in fewer infrastructure improvements and reduced construction industry job creation.
Only 12.7 percent of America’s private construction workforce in 2020 belonged to a union, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to Bellaman, the PRO Act should be eliminated from the infrastructure plan.
Workers in the United States can choose how to go about their careers, Bellaman said. They have the right to choose to join a union, they have the right to choose not to join a union, they have the right to choose to work independently, become an instructor, or start their own company. Once you eliminate that choice, he says, it becomes problematic.
The Biden administration should look into innovative public-private partnerships, something the government has previously used in the past, according to Bellaman. These partnerships can also help fund part of the infrastructure, he said, without relying so much on tax hikes.
To his knowledge the administration has not spoken with the construction industry or Associated Builders and Contractors during its formulating of the infrastructure plan. He said they have offered their ideas to the administration and welcome any opportunity to discuss the package.
Much of Biden’s infrastructure plan includes climate change initiatives. According to Bellaman, the market place has already been building green infrastructure and projects over the past decades. However the construction around solar farms and wind energy over the past years had “been done in a much more responsible sense in terms of supply and demand.”
It’s tough to be optimistic about bipartisanship amid the current rhetoric and narrative, but Bellaman said it is definitely needed.
“Construction companies guarantee the performance of infrastructure,” he said. “Construction companies guarantee the schedule. Construction companies guarantee the budget. Construction companies guarantee the talent that they put on the construction field that deliver that work. If there’s anything that’s wrong, they provide a warranty to fix that work. Construction companies that build and deliver long lasting projects are critical to our infrastructure.”