Washington Report: Gearing Up for a Busy 2018 in Washington

By Craig Piercy, ACPA Washington Advocate

After a year of fits and starts, Congress finally seems to have begun moving the legislative ball forward. As I write this, the tax reform package is headed to the president’s desk. This bill, which represents the first true legislative achievement of the Trump era, is likely to contribute to a significant increase in U.S. economic growth during 2018, and contains many construction industry policy priorities advocated by ACPA as part of the North American Concrete Alliance, including expanded equipment expensing and the continuation of private activity bonds to support major capital projects.

For those who have been closely following our efforts on the Concrete Pump Tax Fairness Act, fear not. We were told by our congressional champions early in the fall that the tax reform package would be focused on broader policy issues, and not include what are generally referred to as “miscellaneous provisions.” Our focus continues to center on upcoming infrastructure legislation and to a lesser extent the “tax extenders package”—a series of expired tax provisions that are in need of reauthorization. In addition, there is an increasing possibility that Congress will need to enact a “corrections bill” to clean up some of the provisions that were not properly addressed in the tax reform package. Overall, we have significantly strengthened our congressional support in 2017, especially in the Senate, and remain confident that, given the right legislative vehicle, we have a good shot at getting the provision enacted into law. Also keep in mind that, regardless of the long timeframe generally needed to enact a tax policy correction of this sort, our efforts on Capitol Hill also ensure that we have a ready stable of champions to call upon should IRS revisit the eligibility of concrete pumps for exemption from the Federal Retail Excise Tax and the annual heavy use tax. Put differently, the best defense is a good offense.

Back to the larger policy arena, legislative success on corporate and individual income taxes means Congress can now turn its attention to finishing the FY 2018 budget and appropriations process. Then, when the budget is completed (and the government shutdowns are over?), most of Washington is expecting a “pivot to infrastructure,” which will likely commence sometime in January when the Trump administration releases its infrastructure policy blueprint.

Unlike the tax bill, infrastructure legislation will likely be considered by regular rules in the Senate and will require 60 “yes” votes for debate and passage. While the administration has reportedly focused primarily on incentivizing private-sector investment in public infrastructure, Democrats have been consistent in their support for strengthening the various public trust funds. Therefore, Republicans and Democrats will have to meet somewhere in the middle to find a deal.

ACPA will also be focused in 2018 on maintaining our current exemption from the 30-minute rest period in U.S. Department of Transportation’s regulation of driver hours of service. As you may remember, ACPA succeeded last year in getting DOT approval to allow concrete pump operators to count idle time on the job site toward their mandated 30-minute break. DOT’s administrative exemption for ACPA has a two-year duration, and we are eligible for one additional year of extension. After that, we must seek a legislative exemption from Congress unless DOT changes its procedures. With nine of the 24 months behind us already, the ACPA is pursuing a two-track strategy to obtain an extension while laying the necessary groundwork with the relevant committees of jurisdiction in Congress for a permanent exemption.

On a related issue, DOT’s new rule mandating the use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) went into effect on December 18, 2017. This rule has caused significant confusion within the U.S. commercial transportation community over which operators/vehicles must comply, so much so that the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance has agreed for a period of six months not to place commercial motor vehicle drivers out of service if their vehicle is not properly equipped. Many concrete pump operators may be exempted from the ELD rule because they operate within the so-called “100 air mile rule.” Also exempt are operators whose work patterns do not require them to keep paper logs for more than eight days during any 30-day period. However, given the complexity of the rule, ACPA will continue to monitor this situation closely, and remain prepared to engage with U.S. DOT and/or Congress to effect necessary changes should a significant percentage of the industry be impacted.