President Joe Biden has proposed a $1.5-trillion budget framework for fiscal 2022 that would emphasize infrastructure, efforts to combat global warming and more spending for all federal departments and major agencies—except the US Army Corps of Engineers civil works program, which would get a 12.9% cut.
The budget request, released on April 9, applies only to discretionary spending programs and thus—importantly for the construction industry—excludes key infrastructure budget accounts. Among those are the federal-aid highways and portions of the federal airport and transit grants programs, which rely greatly on trust funds.
Appropriations this year will be shaped by, and perhaps help to shape, the parallel debate over Biden’s $2-trillion jobs package, which his similar points of emphasis to those in the budget outline.
Continuing a repeated Biden administration theme, the 58-page budget also has a focus on spending to address climate change. The framework says the overall proposal would lift climate-change spending, which would span nearly all agencies, by more than $14 billion from 2021 levels.
Climate-related items include providing $1.7 billion in retrofits to housing, schools and federal buildings and increasing pre-disaster planning and project funding by $540 million, to $815 million.
There also would be a $1.2-billion increase to improve communities' and ecosystems’ resilience against wildfires, floods, and drought.
Corps Budget Takes Hit
Among individual departments and agencies, the Corps civil works account would take a substantial hit—its budget cut 12.9% to a total of $6.8 billion.
The proposed Corps budget reduction, however, may not last and has a familiar ring to long-time Corps-watchers.
John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, says, "I think it is entirely consistent with the approach that we've seen year after year with budget proposals for the Corps civil works program—which is a low-ball figure with the expectation that Congress will increase the suggested amount during the appropriations process."
A former senior Army civil works official, Doyle also points out that the Biden 2022 request is a record high figure for the Corps civil works budget.
"This is a very, very strong starting point for the overall civil works program," he adds.
Other departments and agencies with significant infrastructure and construction programs would be in line for boosts under the Biden plan.
DOT Gets Double Digit Boost
It would hike the US Dept. of Transportation discretionary budget by 14%, to $25.6 billion.
Within DOT, the budget outline highlights the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program, which would see its spending climb by 23%, to $2.5 billion. The program funds new rail and bus transit lines.
Biden’s proposal also retains the consistently popular BUILD (called TIGER) grants for transportation infrastructure and would freeze its funding at this year’s $1-billion level.
Also at DOT, the budget would raise Amtrak spending by 35%, to $2.7 billion, but it did not specify how much of that would be for improvements to bridges, tunnels and other physical infrastructure.
The US Environmental Protection Agency budget would receive a 21% increase, about $2 billion, to $11.2 billion. That would include a $625-million lift for EPA water infrastructure programs, to a total of $3.6 billion.
At the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, multi-purpose Community Development Block Grants would be in line for a $295-million hike, to $3.8 billion. The budget outline says grants would, among other things, provide incentives to modernize and rehabilitate “public infrastructure and facilities” in areas of “persistent poverty.”
The US Energy Dept. would receive an increase of $4.3 billion, or 10%, to $46.1 billion, which would include funds for “programmatic infrastructure for a new energy efficiency and clean energy standard,” according to the budget framework.
Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, via email, pointed to the framework's increase of $1.7 billion, or 14%, for the US Dept. of Labor. The document says some funds are to be used for regulatory and enforcement efforts "to ensure workers' wages, benefits, and rights are protected, address the misclassification of workers as independent contractors and improve workplace health and safety."
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, in his Senate confirmation hearing, said he favors increasing workplace safety inspections by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Turmail also cites the proposed hike of $100 million, or 54%, to fund registered apprenticeship programs, including providing more diversity in such programs' participation. Such apprenticeship programs are tregistered either with the department or with state labor agencies.
Registered programs include those affiliated with the building trades and other labor unions, as well as some that are not union-affiliated.
AGC has both union and nonunion member firms, with members in many registered apprenticeship programs not affiliated with organized labor. The Associated Builders and Contractors has members that participate in registered and non-registered apprenticeship programs.
[See ENR 2/8/2021 story on House passage of apprenticeship legislation here.]
Unsurprisingly, key congressional Democrats praised the budget proposal; GOP members blasted it.
The budget release marks the beginning of the appropriations round for fiscal 2022. Next will come weeks of hearings—starting next week—by the Appropriations Committees, followed by bill drafting and debate.
Correction 4/19/2021: name of law and lobbying firm corrected to Jones Walker LLP.