Judging from President Obama's State of the Union address, construction remains on the administration's radar screen. Infrastructure issues weren't the top focus of the president's roughly hour-long speech, but they did achieve a fairly prominent place.
Repeating a refrain that he has used in speeches in recent months, Obama talked about the need to address the country's "crumbling roads and bridges." He reached back in history, citing the construction of the Hoover Dam and Golden Gate Bridge during the Depression and the launch of the Interstate highway program in the 1950s.
The sound-bite highlight for construction came more than halfway through the president['s speech, when he proposed this way to fund needed domestic infrastructure projects: "Take the money we're no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home."
He didn't specify how much money this dividend from winding down the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would amount to, but it would certainly be at least tens of billions of dollars.
A background paper from the White House notes that the time frame for the infrastructure spending program would be six years. That may mean the money could help fund the long-delayed and much-desired surface-transportation bill.
The big hangup to moving that bill, of course, is where to get the revenue to finance a highway-transit measure that would represent a major increase over the last such bill, 2005's SAFETEA-LU.
On a related point, Obama got specific, saying he would issue an executive order "clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects." Streamlining project reviews is part of a two-year highway bill that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee cleared in November.
In addition, such provisions almost certainly will be in the highway-transit bill that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee plans to roll out next week.
But the chairman of the House committee, John Mica (R-Fla.), said in response to Obama's speech: “America needs to rebuild its infrastructure but I do not support what appears to be the president’s plan to finance that effort by downsizing the military." Mica said the House bill would finance its transportation program partly through revenue from energy production.
Construction and transportation groups welcomed Obama's comments on infrastructure and took the opportunity to push for timely action on a new highway-transit bill.
He didn't omit buildings, and proposed "incentives" to companies "to upgrade their buildings" to make them more energy efficient.
On energy, the president called for "an all-out, all-of-the above strategy," including expanded offshore drilling, and developing U.S. natural gas reserves--though requiring companies to disclose chemicals used in gas extraction.
He also declared that he "will not walk away from the promise of clean energy," and urged approval of tax credits for that sector. On the other hand, he called for pulling back on tax breaks for oil companies.