Construction Industry Reacts to State of the Union Address

Reaction to transportation message is positive, but disappointment is expressed over immigration reform

Construction industry leaders are wasting little time in expressing their opinions about President Obama's State of the Union address last night. Already two major industry associations have issued statements.

Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, was largely positive in his comments, expressing appreciation to the President for highlighting "the link between a strong, properly-functioning transportation infrastructure network and economic competitiveness."

According to Ruane, "[The President's'] call for increased investment in roads, bridges and transit systems has been echoed repeatedly by scores of congressional leaders from both parties, the nation’s governors, and state and local transportation officials."

Ruane positioned the President's address as a call to action, urging, "Let’s use the opportunity at hand to start developing real solutions to address America’s infrastructure deficit."

He notes that a majority of Congress voted last year to support final passage of the highway and transit bill, MAP-21. But while it provides "the foundation for building a much broader infrastructure investment package, the legislation doesn't go far enough.

"MAP-21… only provided enough financial resources to maintain highway and transit investment at current levels for two years," he states, "a scenario that does nothing to reduce the increasing economic costs and personal toll from worsening traffic congestion.

“Generating significant new revenues to complement to MAP-21’s reforms would spur economic growth and job creation, and improve the efficiency of the nation’s transportation network," he asserts, adding, "We stand ready to work with the President and members of Congress from both parties to achieve these goals.”

A Lackluster Immigration Plan?

Not all industry reaction to the President's statements was as enthusiastic. The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) criticized the President for not going far enough in his focus on immigration reform, particularly when it comes to the guest worker program.

Geoff Burr, ABC vice president of Government Affairs, comments, “While the president’s plan is a positive step forward, we are disappointed that he neglected to address the need for a temporary guest worker program for non-agriculture year-round skilled workers. A guest worker program is essential to the success of any viable immigration system reform."

He contends that previous attempts to address immigration reform were unsuccessful because they failed to address this issue.

“ABC believes any successful reform measure must work to ensure proper enforcement of U.S. laws, guarantee the security of the nation’s borders and nurture economic prosperity,” he concludes. “Immigration reform will fail without a legal channel allowing willing, essential foreign workers to work legally in this country.”

Pressure Required

Additional reactions to the State of the Union address will surely be issued in the hours and days ahead. Yet regardless of the opinions expressed, the President's comments must be kept in perspective. The State of the Union address lays out the Administration's agenda for the coming months, but has little real impact on legislative policy. Actual policy decisions and any resulting legislation will be largely dictated by Congress.

If the past four years are any indication, little progress is guaranteed on any of the proposals President Obama discussed. Pressure from major construction industry associations, corporations and legislative constituents will be essential to keep Congressional leaders on task and focused on an agenda that can do the most good for the construction industry, and the U.S. economy as a whole.

Editor's Note: Be sure to check out the I Make America campaign, which is dedicated to increasing jobs for those who grow and build America. As part of this initiative, I Make America has launched an online petition to support investment in American infrastructure in order to rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges and ports. You can find and sign the petition here.