More than 160 NUCA members from all over the UnitedStates met face-to-face with legislators during the Washington Summit on May17-19, discussing issues important to the underground utility constructionindustry.
In addition to the Capitol Hill office visits, attendeeshad a full agenda that included committee meetings, a legislative briefing, anawards dinner, a congressional reception and a NUCA/PAC ImpactEvent.
At the start of thelegislative briefing, NUCA members received some good news about the highwaybill. Less than 30 minutes before the start of the briefing, the U.S. Senatepassed, 89-11, a highway bill authorizing $295 billion in appropriations for FY2004 through 2009. The House authorized $284 billion in its version, whichpassed 417-9 on March 10. The bill is in conference so differences between theHouse and Senate versions can be reconciled.
During the briefing, NUCA’s government relations staffmembers Eben Wyman and Charlie McCrudden outlined the key points of importantissues facing the industry — water infrastructure, OSHA reform, death tax repealand association health plans.
Along with the Senate Highway legislation, NUCA achievedanother victory. NUCA was successful in blocking an effort to involve one-callwith hazardous waste cleanups.
Several lawmakers tried to amend the Senate highway billto include language that would mandate the U.S. Department of Transportation toconduct a feasibility study to investigate if one-call notification systems havethe technical capability to gather, maintain and disseminate information toassist in cleanup of hazardous waste sites. Although the goal of keepingexcavators off of contaminated properties is sound, communication abouthazardous waste sites should be, and is, conducted during the planning anddesign phase of a project. NUCA members visited with several Senate offices toensure that this amendment was not included in the Senate’s final highwaybill.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the lead Democrat on the HouseAppropriations Committee, offered two separate amendments to the abovementionedInterior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill that would havesignificantly increased SRF funding next year. Participants of this year’sWashington Summit encouraged lawmakers to support Obey’s efforts. Unfortunately,many of these members, especially on the Republican side, did not fulfill theircommitment made to NUCA members during their visits on Capitol Hill. Obey’sfirst amendment, which would have increased SRF funding by $500 million, wasruled not in order since it did not include an appropriate offsetting cut. Obeythen attempted to increase funding by $100 million by taking the money from theState and Tribal Assistance Grant (STAG) section of the bill. The amendmentwould have brought the funding to the Clean Water SRF to $950 million, butfailed along party lines, 186-235, with 12 members not voting.
Staffers and legislatorsrepresenting 75 House offices stopped by NUCA’s legislative reception in theHouse Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Room to visit with theirconstituents. NUCA members visited about 100 House and Senate offices during theone-day event.
The honoree of this year’s NUCA/PAC ImpactEvent was Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R-N.C.). The event offered attendees a uniqueopportunity to meet with the man who — as Chairman of the House Interior,Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee — controls thepurse strings for the bulk of the federal government’s spending on waterinfrastructure in 2006. The legislation he introduced to fund the Clean Waterand Drinking Water SRFs for fiscal year 2006 (H.R.2361) was passed by the Houseon May 19; it is currently under consideration in the Senate.
Speaking before an audience of NUCA contractor members, Taylor said: “As youknow, it’s hard to be in business and not be in politics. We in government arefacing a tight budget and serious deficit, so we have to be realistic and pickour priorities. We consider attention to our nation’s infrastructure essentialand we want to work with you on that.” He added that input from those withpractical business experience had the potential to inject a note of reality intothe legislative process, which he said often pits “reality against the promiseof utopia.”
When asked about immigration as it related to the construction workershortage, Taylor said that both political parties were “scared to death of theissue.” Personally, he was emphatic about the need to create a “workable visaprogram” and then enforce it. “We can’t have an immigration policy that we winkat when it suits us,” said Taylor.
The event raised $20,000 for Taylor, who is seeking an 8th term in November2006.