5 takeaways from the industry’s Capitol Hill lobby day

By |  October 1, 2018
The Ohio delegation stormed Capitol Hill as part of NSSGA's Legislative & Policy Forum. Pictured from left are Franz Peters (Martin Marietta), Therese Dunphy (Aggregates Manager), Tim Rowan (CRH/The Shelly Company), Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), Michael Hunt (Martin Marietta) and Pit & Quarry's Kevin Yanik and Rob Fulop. Photo by Ryan Dilworth.

The Ohio delegation stormed Capitol Hill as part of NSSGA’s Legislative & Policy Forum. Pictured from left are Franz Peters (Martin Marietta), Therese Dunphy (Aggregates Manager), Tim Rowan (CRH/The Shelly Company), Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), Michael Hunt (Martin Marietta) and Pit & Quarry’s Kevin Yanik and Rob Fulop. Photo by Ryan Dilworth.

The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association‘s second Legislative & Policy Forum afforded the aggregate industry another opportunity to visit with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., and advocate for producers across the nation.

Cleveland-based Pit & Quarry joined representatives from Martin Marietta, CRH and Aggregates Manager to form a delegation from Ohio that visited with five congressmen. The delegation, along with many others that stormed Capitol Hill, focused on a few key topics during meetings, including infrastructure, regulation and safety. Here are a few takeaways from P&Q’s day on the Hill.

The takeaways

1. Many legislators and their staffers are aware of the need for infrastructure reform. Scheduled meetings with congressional representatives don’t always include members of Congress. In fact, more times than not, these meetings are held exclusively with key staff members or aides.

Most aides are younger than the people they visiting with – some are only in their 20s or early 30s – and visitors may walk away wondering if the messages they impart will be properly conveyed, or even understood, by the staffers who, in many cases, look like they’re fresh out of college.

This isn’t a slight to those who make the trip to Washington. It’s simply how the process works on Capitol Hill. This is the standard process for all lobby groups.

Aides often do a lot of listening and detailed note-taking before relaying advocates’ messages up the chain of command. Two of the Ohio group’s five meetings were held exclusively or largely with aides, but both aides had a good understanding of the infrastructure issue and the dire need for better roads, highways and bridges. Their grasp of the subject matter was refreshing and likely shows that the combined lobbying efforts of transportation infrastructure advocacy groups are having a positive effect.

2. Still, Congress remains divided on how to pay for infrastructure. As one aide shared with the Ohio delegation, increasing the gas tax and implementing a vehicle miles traveled fee are sensible ideas that some legislators continue to push. Still, some in Congress reject these concepts because they impose additional costs on the public, because they favor some users over others and for a number of other reasons.

As one aide told the Ohio group, one holdup with increasing and indexing the gas tax, which has not been touched since 1993, is that it’s considered a “tax.”

“Call it a tax if you want,” the aide said, articulating plainly that some action on the gas tax is obvious and necessary.

A meeting with a House representative from Ohio provided additional clarity on the infrastructure divide that remains on Capitol Hill. The congressperson rolled through several ideas that could be part of an ultimate solution, including a gas tax increase, a vehicle miles traveled fee, public-private partnerships, the repatriation of dollars and the use of energy development dollars.

This particular congressperson was keen on public-private partnerships, describing them as “capitalism.” The upkeep of public roads is at least partly the responsibility of the private sector, the congressperson argued.

3. No major infrastructure bill is coming this year. Although one congressperson expressed the possibility of getting something done on infrastructure this year, the majority sentiment is that no major piece of legislation is expected until at least 2019.

This is an unfortunate place for the industry to be because infrastructure was so high on the list of President Donald Trump’s priorities upon taking office last year. Plus, nearly a full calendar year has gone by since the president released his five-point infrastructure plan.

Parts of the plan – speeding up the permitting process for infrastructure projects, workforce development programs – should be areas the majority of Congress can rally behind. But, as discussed, there are some sticking points with the president’s plan that need to be worked through. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they’ll be worked through before the midterm elections.

4. A clear definition of the waters of the United States (WOTUS) remains a work in progress. The day the aggregate industry stormed the Hill, the WOTUS rule was the law in 26 states while it remained blocked in the other 24. Back in August, Federal Judge David Norton issued a summary judgment that reinstated the rule in the 26 states.

The action is a frustrating one for an aggregate industry that has been fighting this rule now for several years. The battle continues, but one Republican congressperson expressed to the Ohio delegation that he remains hopeful on WOTUS and that a clear definition for all remains a work in progress.

5. Congress isn’t just divided on infrastructure. It’s divided – period. Our industry took to the Hill the day before Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Anyone who watched even a few minutes of that hearing saw firsthand how divided congressional Republicans and Democrats are.

While the process of confirming a Supreme Court Justice isn’t news an industry publication like ours should cover, the circus-like environment surrounding those proceedings offers a benchmark of where we are politically. And the state of our politics has potential effects on our industry’s ability – heck, any industry’s ability – to get things done in Washington.

As Kavanaugh stated in the opening remarks of his second hearing, his confirmation process became a “circus” and a “national disgrace.” Despite a lack of corroboration to Ford’s story, we seem to have entered a new era in politics where anything goes, where civility and rational discourse are cast aside merely to advance one’s political agenda.

America should set the standard for decency, but the politics that presided over that hearing could set the nation back decades.

“If we reward this, it is the end of good people wanting to be judges,” said Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who sits on the Senate Judicial Committee, a day after Kavanaugh and Ford testified. “It is the end of any concept of the rule of law. It’s the beginning of a process that will tear this country apart.”

If politicians are willing to stoop to new lows to obstruct a judge’s confirmation, what lengths are they willing to go to delay and destruct bills and measures that don’t jibe with their politics? And what impact would that approach have on industries like ours that require Congress to act to further position businesses for growth?

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