Even as votes continued to be counted in at least three states and U.S. Senate party makeup and control is in limbo until Georgia runoff elections in January, a victory in Pennsylvania propelled former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris to win the race for the White House on Nov. 7, with a total of 279 electoral votes gained compared to 214 for President Donald Trump.
A total of 270 votes are needed to win. The Associated Press is reporting Biden-Harris had 290 electoral votes as of Nov. 8, with wins in Arizona and Nevada. He held a narrow 10,000-vote lead in Georgia, with a recount likely, but won in Wisconsin and Michigan.
Trump was ahead in North Carolina and Alaska, after winning races in the key states of Florida, Ohio and Iowa but could not make up the vote gap. He has not conceded and is pursuing legal action over vote counts in some states. The counts will be certified beginning on Nov. 10 through Dec. 11.
Policy priorities expressed by the Biden-Harris campaign, when it is set to take office on Jan. 20, include a national approach to fighting COVID-19 and boosting US economic recovery, and reversing the Trump stance on climate change, infrastructure expansion, and immigration restrictions and border wall construction. The president-elect would have the U.S. rejoin the Paris climate agreement, and roll back a number of executive orders, including those related to environmental rule curbs, says Bloomberg Law, although rollbacks will be a long process.
In a Nov. 7 statement, the American Council of Engineering Cos. said "the infrastructure agenda [it] has been advocating for is ideal for unifying the nation in 2021 and represents an enormous opportunity for the new Administration."
ACEC added that it "looks forward" to working with a Biden-Harris White House on "fully-funded resilient infrastructure," as well as on STEM workforce shortages and COVID-19 economic issues. But the group also said it "will stand by our member firms ... to preserve the regulatory and tax policies that have enabled our industry to remain competitive and survive the effects of the pandemic," referring to gains from Trump Administration tax reform law and other pro-business changes.
In an interview before the electoral total was reached, Steve Hall, ACEC senior vice president for advocacy said: “The vast majority of everything is getting pushed over to next year, so really, regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, that’s going to be a big priority. He noted the challenge ahead in how final congressional makeup "is going to affect the [infrastructure] agenda.”
Jimmy Christianson, Associated General Contractors of America vice president for government relations, said in an interview that another infrastructure package is likely under Biden, with the measure expected to be similar to the Moving America Forward Act, which the House passed in July.
That bill has $1.5 trillion in infrastructure funding, including $494 billion for highways, transit and rail programs.
A more immediate issue facing Congress is finishing appropriations for the rest of fiscal year 2021. A stopgap measure passed in September only extends through Dec. 11.
Another near-term matter is the fate of a further coronavirus relief and economic stimulus bill. In recent weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been exchanging proposals aimed at a compromise package but didn’t reach a deal before Election Day.
Whether those talks will resume—and result in an agreement in an expected lame duck session—also would likely be affected by the outcome of the presidential contest.
[View ENR story on construction groups' and building trades unions' campaign spending here.]
Michele Stanley, National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association vice president for government and regulatory affairs, said via email that both candidates “are supportive of infrastructure spending and we are hopeful that a recovery/stimulus package in 2021, no matter which administration is in place, will focus on infrastructure investment as a way for economic recovery for America.”
Perhaps the biggest difference between the presidential candidates is in labor issues, contractor groups say.
AGC and the Associated Builders and Contractors are worried about the Protecting the Right to Organize, or PRO, bill, which the House passed in February. The measure has strong union support. Christianson says it is part of Biden’s agenda and would “dramatically shift labor law” for the first time in 50 years.
Kristen Swearingen, ABC vice president for legislative and political affairs, said in an interview, “That would be a huge, huge detriment to ABC member companies.” She adds that for ABC, “One of the main motivators of this election is making sure that that bill does not get across the finish line.”
Christianson says it would end the prohibition on secondary boycotts, and allow rapid unionization elections. Trump’s White House issued a statement recommending a veto of the legislation, should it reach his desk. There has been no action on the bill in the Senate.
Senate, House and DeFazio
The shapes of the Senate and House were coming into focus. By Nov. 8, Senate Democrats had achieved a net gain of one seat, but it still left them short of the number needed for their desired takeover of the majority. Runoffs for Georgia's two Senate seats set for Jan. 5 will determine party control.
In the House, Republicans—in a surprise—had narrowed Democrats' majority by gaining several seats, according to reports. But winners in about 50 other House races had not yet been determined.
Construction and engineering companies were keenly watching House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio's race in Oregon. The 17-term House member was reelected, withstanding a challenge from Republican Alek Skarlatos, a former member of the Oregon National Guard who with four others stopped an armed terrorist on a train from Amsterdam to Paris in 2015.
Most Funding Measures Pass
Results were clearer for major construction-related funding initiatives on state and local ballots, with most passing, although the $45 billion estimated bond issue total is the lowest in a presidential election since 2012 due to municipal reluctance to push borrowing during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Bloomberg.
Key Biscayne, Fla., approved a $100-million bond measure to help fund a variety of resilience projects to safeguard the low-lying barrier island near Miami from the effects of sea level rise. Projects include roadway elevations, construction of an offshore breakwater, shoreline and seagrass mitigation and hardening of utility infrastructure. With an average elevation of 3.4 ft above sea level, Key Biscayne is projected to become increasingly vulnerable to tidal flooding over the next 25 years, according to a 2017 vulnerability assessment.
In Travis County, Texas, which includes the state capital of Austin, a funding measure for the $7.1-billion Project Connect mass transit plan appeared on track to pass by a wide margin. The largest such project in the city’s history, the program is to include construction of two light rail lines and a downtown transit tunnel. The county’s voters also approved a separate $460-million bond-funded measure that includes improvements to streets, drainage infrastructure, sidewalks and urban trails.
But a major defeat in the transportation sector was the failure of a controversial plan in metropolitan Portland, Ore., to help fund a $7-billion transportation program via a new .75% payroll tax on private employers with 25 or more workers. In Gwinnett County, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, an apparent rejection on Nov. 3 of a 1% sales tax hike for up to 30 years to fund an estimated $12-billion transit and bus infrastructure expansion program is too close to call on Nov.9.
Even so, Arkansas voters amended the state constitution to make permanent a .5% statewide transportation sales tax first enacted in 2012. More than two-thirds of the nearly $294 million in annual tax revenue goes to highway projects, with the remainder split between city and county transportation programs. In Seattle, a sales tax to fund transit-related projects was renewed for six years.
Voters in Bend, Ore., overwhelmingly approved a $190-million transportation bond measure that had been temporarily pulled from the ballot during the summer amid concerns that its chances for success would be compromised by coronavirus-related economic concerns. Amended to delay implementing a property tax increase until 2022, the measure funds upgrades to the city’s main east-west connector routes and neighborhood safety improvements.
San Antonio renewed its .125% sales tax for future transportation funding and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. okayed $102.7 million in bonds for transportation projects, while early results favored Mesa, Ariz.’s $100 million bond proposal.
The defeated Oregon funding mechanism drew strong opposition from the region’s business community, with polls suggesting that economic uncertainties dimmed public support for the program’s $3-billion light rail extension and multiple highway safety improvement projects. The Georgia initiative lost by just 200 votes, reports say, but it was the second defeat of a transit funding measure in just 18 months.
Other Infrastructure Gains
Numerous measures to fund improvements to K-12 educational facilities generally had strong support.
Topping the list was Texas’s largest-ever municipal bond issue—a $3.27-billion measure to renovate 14 aging schools in the Dallas area. Also passed was ia San Antonio property tax increase that will fund up to $1.21 billion in bonds for new construction and renovations at 36 locations, and a $300-million public school construction bond for Guilford County, N.C., which includes the city of Greensboro. But the Texas Northwest Independent School District rejected a proposed $938 million measure.
New Mexico voters strongly endorsed a $156.3-million bond measure to improve multiple higher education facilities, special schools and tribal schools, while those in Denver agreed to increase city public school system debt by nearly $800 million to fund building maintenance and renovation work. Madison, Wisc. okayed $317 million for school and facility improvements and Baltimore County, Md., overwhelmingly supported a $38 million school construction initiative, as well as a $72 million proposal for public buildings and facilities.
Philadelphia voted in $134 million in bonds for municipal capital projects and Wyoming approved a constitutional amendment to remove debt limits for municipal sewer projects is leading by a slim margin, but a $900-million measure in San Diego to fund affordable housing appeared to be falling short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass.
Green measures also won in key cities and in Nevada.
Denver voters said yes to a .25% sales tax increase to fund renewable and clean energy programs, while those in Long Beach, Calif. approved a tax increase on oil production that would fund, among other things, a climate change plan; and those in Portland, Maine approved by a 57% margin, its Green New Deal that boosts green building standards and directs monitoring use of fossil-fuel infrastructure to meet emissions targets.
“There’s not another city working on a Green New Deal like ours,” said Ethan Strimling, former Portland mayor, noting its combined stance on environmental regulation, worker pay rules and affordable housing requirements. “It’s not radical; it’s basic policy we need to put in place as climate change envelops us,” he added, contending that potential "up-front costs" in construction "get paid down over time in operating costs."
Nevada's statewide measure to require a 50% renewable energy standard had 56% voter support in a second referendum on the measure following passage in 2018—with two approvals required under state law to codity it.
Other approvals include a proposal in Seattle and surrounding King County to allocate $1.74 billion of property tax revenue for bonds to expand city-owned Harborview Hospital, and a $250-million bond issue in Detroit to demolish approximately 8,000 blighted and abandoned properties and secure 6,000 others for potential renovation. Multnomah County, Ore., voters said yes to a $387-million plan to renovate libraries and build a new 95,000-sq-ft flagship facility.
Industry Candidates: Not A Good Night
However, construction sector professionals running as first-time Republican candidates for three House of Representatives seats fell short.
In New Jersey, David Richter, a civil engineer, attorney and former CEO of project management and claims consultant Hill International, lost to Democratic incumbent Andy Kim by a 55% to 45% margin in what had been seen as a competitive race to return the seat to Republican control after it was flipped in 2018. Neither has issued a statement so far. Reports point to Kim outspending Richter by almost two to one.
In Maryland, Neil C. Parrott, a transportation engineer and CEO-founder of consultant Traffic Solutions Inc. in Hagerstown, could not unseat Democrat David Trone in the state's eighth congressional district in the western part of the state. Parrott, a former Maryland highway administration manager and past deputy public works director in Frederick, Md., conceded the race after midnight, with Trone winning about 60% of the district vote.
Also not able to beat her Democratic challenger in New Mexico's third congressional district was Alexis Johnson, an environmental engineer whose family owns a business that manages projects for regional oil and gas producers. She lost to activist Teresa Leger Fernandez. Both women ran for the seat vacated by Democrat Ben Ray Lujan, who won his bid for the Senate.