Saturday, March 19, 2011

Group pushes construction boost

Citing a job crisis in the construction sector, a national trade group that represents general contractors met Tuesday in Phoenix to urge state and federal officials to take steps to help revive the industry.

Leaders of the Virginia-based Associated General Contractors of America held a news conference Tuesday morning in front of the stalled Hotel Monroe project, 15 E. Monroe St.

The group's CEO, Stephen Sandherr, said his organization chose Phoenix as the site where it would announce its list of job-boosting recommendations because metro Phoenix has lost the most construction jobs in the current economic downturn.

Sandherr said Phoenix has lost more than 91,000 full-time construction jobs during the four years that ended in January. That's more than half of the roughly 170,000 workers employed in January 2007.

"Looking at a project like this, it's easy to understand why the construction industry is still in a recession," Sandherr said about the boarded-up Hotel Monroe, one of the failed projects funded by the now-defunct Scottsdale investment broker and construction lender Mortgages Ltd.

Sandherr said the unemployment rate in his industry is 21.8 percent, noting that the lack of construction jobs has ripple effects that hinder the country's overall economic recovery.

With that in mind, the trade group issued a list of recommendations that Sandherr said would give the construction industry a needed boost.

They included an increase in federal spending on public-infrastructure projects. The federal government spent about $135 billion in 2009 and 2010 in economic-stimulus funds on construction projects, but most of the projects have been completed and are no longer a source of work for construction firms.

Sandherr called for Congress to make permanent President George W. Bush's tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which apply to income taxes on small businesses and individuals earning more than $250,000 a year.

Congress recently renewed the tax cuts for two years, but the Obama administration has said it doesn't want them to be made permanent.

The group also wants reforms that would reduce taxes on construction projects and companies, including the expansion of "loss-carryback" tax rules, which allow companies currently operating at a loss to obtain refunds on tax payments made during profitable years.

In addition, it called for a revival of the expired Build America Bonds program, in which the federal government subsidized 35 percent of the interest payments on public construction projects.

The group's other recommendations included lifting federal trade restrictions that discourage manufacturing in the U.S., easing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation of construction projects, encouraging public-private partnerships with tax breaks, revenue subsidies or other measures, and accelerating projects aimed at providing the country with cleaner and more renewable energy, such as by fast-tracking the licensing of new nuclear plants.

by J. Craig Anderson The Arizona Republic Mar. 16, 2011 12:00 AM

Group pushes construction boost

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