Issues & AdvocacyFederal
Congress Returns With Large To-Do List as Architects Gear Up to Advance Legislative Priorities
By Andrew Goldberg, Assoc. AIA, Managing Director, Government Relations & Outreach
Members of Congress returned to Washington last week with a large to-do list of unresolved issues., Although the budget deal that enacted in December lessened the possibility of further fiscal crises like October’s government shutdown, the looming 2014 midterm election means Congress has relatively little time to address other big issues.
Here is a quick look at the issues that Congress might try to tackle in 2014, and how architects will help shape some of those issues:
Job Growth and Economic Progress. Issue number one for the voters continues to be the economy, and that is no doubt true for the design construction industry as well. The AIA and its allies are working to advance legislation that will help architecture firms identify new markets and help architects and emerging architects deal with the financial strains that impact their ability to find work and stay in the profession. Legislation that reforms the design build process for federal buildings, backed by the AIA and a coalition of groups, may see action in 2014, and efforts to help architecture school graduates deal with the ever-increasing burdens of student loan debt may also see traction this year in Congress.
The Federal Budget. The deal Congress finalized in December provides a two-year blueprint for the federal budget, but Congress still needs to approve funding bills to keep government agencies running past January 15. Although the budget deal cancels some of the spending cuts from sequestration, the outlook for funding levels for many programs is still fairly bleak, including monies for the design and construction of federal facilities at the Department of Defense, GSA, and other agencies. In addition to having to keep government agencies open, this year Congress also needs to address the debt ceiling. According to the Treasury Department, the federal government will reach the limit as early as February.
Taxes. Ambitious efforts to reform the U.S. tax code took a big hit in December, when President Obama nominated Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) to the next U.S. ambassador to China. Sen. Baucus was one of Capitol Hill's biggest proponents of large-scale reform of the tax code. Although there is little chance of tax reform passing in 2014, the Finance Committee did release a number of broad proposals in December and have asked the public for comments. The AIA and a large coalition of design and construction organizations are preparing responses to the proposals, many of which would directly impact architects and their firms.
In the meantime, another tax related issue looms large – the expiration this past New Year's Eve of several tax incentives, including those for the building sector. Of particular note to architects was the expiration on December 31 of the 179D energy efficient commercial building tax deduction. The AIA will be strongly making the case with its allies that Congress needs to restore these incentives in order to keep the fragile recovery of the design construction industry going.
Infrastructure. Despite growing awareness that the nation's infrastructure is in serious need of repair, disagreements on how to finance improvements to roads, bridges, buildings, and water systems are preventing legislation from moving forward. The AIA and its allies have been working to advance the idea of a National Infrastructure Bank, which would leverage billions of dollars in private sector funding to help repair and rebuild critical infrastructure, including buildings. Although it is unlikely that such legislation would advance in 2014, there is hope that at the very least, Congress can provide more long-term funding for transportation projects when it renews the federal transportation program, which expires later this year.
Energy. The best hope for bipartisan action on energy efficiency remains with the still-stalled Shaheen Portman energy efficiency bill that was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year but was held up in the Senate over unrelated issues. The AIA is working to build support for the bill, while ensuring that it, or any other energy legislation, does not repeal the 2007 law that applies the 2030 targets to federal buildings.
Disaster resilience. As the number of natural disasters impacting both the United States and countries around the world continue to mount, 2014 could provide opportunities to advance legislation that helps architects and the entire design construction community not only help communities recover from natural disasters, but also prepare them to mitigate against such disasters.
On Monday, the AIA will outline its legislative priorities for the upcoming Congressional session, based on the results of the AIA’s Call for Issues. Want to get involved moving the agenda forward? Visit www.aia.org/advocacy365 to learn how you can advocate for the profession.
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