Political Outlook 2008
As the nation and the aggregates industry gear up for fall elections, we embark on an uncharted road.
As we enter the 2008 election year, we are embarking on an uncharted road, particularly as it applies to the presidential contest. The presidential race has not been so wide open since 1952, with no obvious “heir apparent,” no incumbent president running for re-election, and no vice president standing in the wings. Other things making this election cycle different are the early primaries, which mean we could know the presidential candidates by February 2008 and then have the longest gap between the nomination fights and the presidential nominating conventions in history. Also, it is the first campaign in which a woman is a leading contender for a nomination of her party. Finally, the 44th president will be the first since Richard Nixon to inherit an unpopular war.
According to a November 2007 Washington Post/ABC poll, 60 percent of the populace is looking for change, including — overwhelmingly — those who identify themselves as Democrats; three-quarters of those who identify themselves as independents; and one-half of those who identify themselves as Republicans.
In an ominous sign for Republicans, the Iraq War continues to be the primary drag on public opinion. About seven in 10 people view a recession as likely. On all key issues: including healthcare, the situation in Iraq, the economy, immigration, and taxes, the Democrats are viewed as the most trusted to do a better job of handling them. Only on the U.S. campaign against terrorism are the Republicans seen as more equipped to handle it, but even then by a very small percentage.
On the issues of most concern to the construction industry — infrastructure investment, taxes, natural resource development, labor, environment, health, and safety — the outlook is mixed. Generally, the Democrats have been more willing to increase funding for the nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. Republicans look at increased highway funding and see increased taxes. This is particularly true now that they seek to recover the Republican Party brand of fiscal conservatism and lower taxes.
The Minnesota bridge collapse prompted an immediate response from Congress in the form of a $250 million earmark. Likewise, the Senate added $1 billion for bridge repair and replacement to the FY ’08 Department of Transportation appropriations bill. Despite these positive signs, however, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) was shot down almost immediately by the anti-tax increase chorus when he proposed a one-time, 5-cent increase on the gas user fee to fund a bridge repair program. Several members of Congress have advised that an increase in the user fee on gasoline is not politically achievable during an election year, meaning the financial gap that is expected in the Highway Trust Fund in 2009 will have to be filled in some other manner. In fact, the nation’s transportation infrastructure was only briefly mentioned by several of the presidential candidates after the Minnesota tragedy, followed by deafening silence.
Democrats traditionally favor more restrictive policies and regulations on natural resource development and environmental issues. Climate change proposals abound, and the next Congress is sure to act on some of these. For the construction industry, there could be opportunities (e.g., diversion of some of the resulting revenues to the Highway Trust Fund), as well pitfalls. Smart growth still trumps quality growth (balanced common-sense approaches to solving community’s growth related needs), which could result in putting badly needed construction material deposits off limits.
Republicans have been more leery of labor proposals that are cloaked as “safety” improvements when, in fact, they are really added regulatory burdens and attempts to undo the long-standing federal notice and comment rulemaking process and circumvent laws that require assessment of the impacts of regulatory proposals on small business. Think S-MINER (Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act).
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