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2012: A Look Ahead

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2012 started off with a bang as people put away holiday decorations and focused on Presidential politics. Although its winner rarely becomes the nominee, the January 3rd Iowa Republican caucuses and New Hampshire primaries still garnered a lot of attention, set the field, and even winnowed it a bit.

In an about-face that rendered days of political musings useless, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum ultimately prevailed in the January 3 Iowa caucus by a slender 34 votes. By the time the Iowa caucus had been called, Romney had already cleared another victory on January 10 with a convincing 38 percent win in New Hampshire, a 14-point margin over second place finisher Congressman Ron Paul. Had Romney retained his win in the Iowa caucus, he would have been the first Republican candidate in an open race for the presidency to win both Iowa and New Hampshire, ever.

By the time this article runs, there will have been three more contests in South Carolina, Florida and Nevada, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney handily winning with a sizable majority in the latter two. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich won his only primary so far in South Carolina.

It will be a worthwhile challenge to all AGC members to do their parts in informing Congress of the needs of our industry and the importance to the economy of improving roads and highways.

Due to redistricting snafus, Texas will be left out of the biggie, Super Tuesday, on March 6. Instead, Texas must wait until May 29 (or so it is at the time of this printing) until redistricting lawyers can agree on maps.

How does this affect our industry? In part because the 2012 elections are already in full swing, it will be hard to get Congress to attend to the big issues at hand, including the reauthorization of the highway bill.

The present continuing resolution for SAFETEA-LU will expire in March. One of the biggest points of contention is identifying revenue for the highway bill to sustain spending at current levels. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mt) has explored options to raise $12 billion in additional revenues for the Highway Trust Fund to keep the fund solvent through the end of a two-year reauthorization bill in September 2013. Although initially reluctant to embrace those options, Finance Committee Republicans surfaced in December with a letter to Baucus suggesting possible other options for filling the revenue hole. The Republicans oppose raising the gasoline tax, but do support transfers from other funds to the HTF, rescinding prior appropriations made for other areas of the government, revenues from oil and gas exploration, and other options. Texas’ junior Senator, John Cornyn, signed the letter along with Senators Hatch, Grassley, Coburn, and others.

The real issue facing AGC this year is how we get our message heard in this noisy, politically contentious year, and what can we do to bring transportation issues to the forefront? Changes in the political leadership will undoubtedly occur affecting our issues. If you read the December 29 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed by Karl Rove, you would know he made several political predictions for 2012. Among those are that either Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, or both will leave the Demo-cratic leadership by year’s end. This is based on the premise that the Republicans will take the U.S. Senate and hold its majority, albeit by a smaller margin, in the House, Speaker John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell will continue to lead the GOP. Whereas a GOP controlled House and Senate will most certainly benefit the tax side of the industry as well as helping to curtail the EPA and overly stringent environmental regulations, it does not bode well for the revenue side. This makes the support of Senators Cornyn, Hatch, Grassley, Coburn, and others to identify additional revenue for the HTF all the more significant.

It will be a worthwhile challenge to all AGC members to do their parts in informing Congress of the needs of our industry and the importance to the economy of improving roads and highways. Too many jobs and the economy’s overall prosperity are at risk for us to sit on the sidelines this year. Few candidates want to talk raising taxes in an election year, but usually all are interested in the importance of maintaining a vital transportation system. There will be several opportunities for members to making their voices heard, including participating in the Washington DC fly-in sponsored by AGC of America, supporting the AGC PAC both at the state and federal level, and taking the time to know your Congressmen and Senators on a personal basis.

In addition to the Presidential campaign, there is a US Senate race in Texas this year—the first such race for an open seat since 2002 and only the second since 1993. Long-time Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is stepping down. The top three contenders for this seat are Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, and political newbie Ted Cruz. Though he has never held or run for office before, Ted Cruz is counting on a grassroots campaign to bring him to victory. He will be heavily outspent by Dewhurst. Leppert’s presence may mean a run-off between Dewhurst and the second place finisher, likely to be Cruz.

In addition, there are numerous contested Congressional races that will be covered in later issues. The races for the U.S. House are complicated by the fact there is no redistricting plan now in place, the Legislature’s having been tossed out by the Federal courts. We won’t have a good sense of what the House landscape looks like until the map is settled by the courts and cleared by the Justice Department as required under the Voting Rights Act.

The success of our Industry in 2012 depends on the involvement of the members. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about races or federal legislation. Karen Johnson, 512.751.8113.

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