You may have already heard it at your area meeting, because we sure didn’t waste any time this year. The chapter has a new vector, and it is moving fast. Under the leadership of President Albert and myself as task force chairman, the Highway Funding Task Force (HFTF) is underway with an ambitious list of new charges, and I have been asked to report on their progress. If you have yet to hear word of these new initiatives, get to your area meetings! This is truly where the “rubber meets the road,” and if this industry has any hope of being funded past 2013, your participation is required.
Several initiatives have been identified by the Highway Funding Task Force, and we are already seeing promising returns from the members. These initiatives were formed over the course of the last few months in 2011, and they are getting stronger, clearer, and better organized as we get further into 2012.
President Albert, myself, and other members of the Highway Funding Task Force are taking this show to the highways; we will make sure we get to each area and explain the purpose of these new exercises, and how they will translate into more dollars for this industry.
Bob Lanham lays out the Task Force charges to the DFW crowd
As you know, after 2012, the department only has enough money to fund maintenance of its system. That means zero construction contracts unless something is done. And since the department is legally prohibited from lobbying, it is up to our Chapter to spearhead this effort to get Texas back to its days of fast-moving, open highways. The Task Force envisions this being accomplished through several strategies.
First, develop a broadly based network of groups or organizations that are supportive of transportation investment. Each area will be responsible for identifying groups who would benefit from highway funding. When the time comes to call in to our legislators, our response has the potential to be overwhelming. This initiative is already underway, so contact your Area Chairman to get your networks established.
The Coalitions Work Group is helmed by John Carlson of Sundt Construction. He has already laid the groundwork for the areas to get these coalitions developed by sending out a template for coalition report. If all goes well, this will turn out to be a giant spreadsheet, and one that we will be able to rely on when it gets down to the wire.
This is a new approach for the Chapter, which historically has preferred to limit the amount of “partnering” done with other organizations. Nowadays, however there is such a demonstrable lack of infrastructure funding, the message is clear: we need funding! The arguments on how that funding is secured are becoming less essential to the dialogue.
Second, and perhaps most important, is education. This broad charge is accomplished through several mediums, including the Road Show, online, and the publication of another round of “Blue Books.”
The Road Show initiative is something we plan on developing closer to the next legislative session. Lawrence Olsen of Texas Good Roads and I plan to work closely with TRIP, as well as avail the work done by Carlson’s group to help us in our endeavors.
Website and Social Media tools are, as of yet, essentially untouched by the Chapter, and a work group led by Art Daniel of AR Daniel Construction is vetting the need and desire for social media networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Each of these has potential to be effective, member-driven industry forums, and it will be interesting to see how these develop over the course of the year.
Johnny Weisman speaks of the importance of area involvement with the Highway Funding Task Force initiatives
The Blue Book is going to be one hell of a document, if you’ll pardon my Texan. Under the direction of Dale Stubblefield of Austin Bridge & Road, this document has the ambitious charge of tracking every penny going into and out of the department, showing where funding is diverted in place of actually building roads with it. This will be a version 2.0: sleeker, better organized, and more professionally finished than the last. Most importantly, however, the numbers can speak for themselves. We just need the members to deliver them.
Also under the banner of Education is the Area Chairmen Work Group, led by Jon Abrams of JD Abrams. Under his direction, information is conducted between the Austin-based Chapter business and its area counterparts. It is Jon’s job to make sure information is accessible, so if you think of ways to enhance these communication channels, Jon would love to hear them.
Lastly, we would be remiss if we didn’t take some time to seriously ponder what the voting patterns from Proposition 2, as well as the local bonding elections in Travis County, can teach us moving forward. Reading voting patterns isn’t like reading the tea leaves; indeed, we can learn a lot from how people vote because (unsurprising for this politically-minded group) it ain’t always about the issues at hand.
In a historic drought, our Proposition 2 initiative almost failed. It would appear to be contrary to all the public rhetoric in Texas to vote against water infrastructure. However, vote against it they did, and we need to know why. Conversely, the Travis County bonding initiative had a very strong pro-infrastructure turnout. Both these bonding measures rely on selling bonds for funding. Both are good for their respective communities. Why the large support in one and the almost 50/50 ambivalence on the other? These are the tough questions Trey Pebley, Chairmen of the Proposition 2 Work Group is charged with figuring out. This will help us know how to proceed with additional highway funding in the years to come, what is palatable to the public, and what they will disregard on voting day.
Legislative Relations: Key Contact Development
Hunter Industries’ Elizabeth Weisman is chairing this worthwhile group, whose mission it is to identify solid connections between our membership and our legislators. This is an endeavor we started years ago with mixed support, but this is, at its heart, the lifeblood of our Association. It is now up to Elizabeth to get this message from the heart of the Chapter to the rest of its body: this is a member-driven association, and this is how we work. As she fills up these legislative contact sheets, we will be able to draw on them come session time when we need to explain to a legislator how important a specific vote can be. As employers, we have an essential function in legislative districts, and no legislator wants to hear of layoffs and downsizing. It is their job to maintain the economic sanctity of their district, and being pro-industry is a good way to get that done. Legislative Relations: National As Karen Johnson reported in her column this issue, our National legislative relations have typically been treated as a separate arm of this association, and it has become apparent that more integration is needed. We are working on integrating the National Legislative Action Center with one that serves state initiatives.
If you have followed the papers regarding federal reauthorization, it is more than apparent that our leaders in Washington, DC need more consistent reminders that their constituents are watching closely, and expect them to do what’s right for their hometowns. This Legislative Action Center will serve as a realtime conduit for reinforcement, both positive and negative, that will, with sufficient participation, reinvigorate our lawmakers to our cause.
Finally, the lynchpin: the one that, without, the rest of these actions have very real chances of failing. Politics are a lot like TxDOT’s work program: while they both serve the public good, nothing gets done without funding. PACs are the way to show commitment to your goals and just how important those goals are to you. Opinions are all well and good, but with millions of people in this state, they come rather cheaply. Nothing speaks louder than a monetary commitment to your cause, and the AGC PAC is our way of shouting our commitment to the promotion of our industry.
Last session, we were the only industry who received more funding than the previous biennium. We have strong allies in the legislature who understand how good we are for economic development, something this country sorely needs. We can maintain this interest by demonstrating to our legislators that AGC of Texas is a serious political force, and we will gladly support those who support Texas highways.
Under the direction of Zack Burkett, III of Zack Burkett Company, the PAC Work Group is working to bolster our PAC program, serve as a resource for the field areas in their PAC events, and to share best practices among the areas for a more comprehensive, statewide investment in what the AGC of Texas PAC serves to do.
If you have read through this article and had any thoughts on coalition or legislative contacts, PAC ideas, or any of the other initiatives underway, I promise you that participation is as easy as contacting your Area Chairman, the Chapter staff, or getting to your next area meeting. There is a groundswell of commitment from all corners of the state to do their best to prepare for next session. I hope you will join us.