At the end of 2020, Congress approved another COVID-19 relief package. The legislation, which President Trump signed into law on December 27, contained many provisions to address the pandemic and its economic impact, including direct payments to individuals, small business support, tax credits and funding for vaccine distribution.
The final package also provided $10 billion in funding targeted to state departments of transportation (DOTs) to help alleviate budget shortfalls due to the drop in revenue from the COVID shutdowns. AED and its members were pivotal in securing the DOT funding that will allow road and bridge projects to continue uninterrupted well into 2021 despite the pandemic's lingering effects.
The lobbying effort culminated in an eight-month-long effort to convey the importance of infrastructure investments to get the economy back on track.
After the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act and the CARES Act became law, there was a great deal of concern that state DOTs were running low on revenue and that road and bridge projects were being canceled and delayed. AED immediately turned its attention toward making the case that lawmakers should pass infrastructure investment legislation, particularly with the FAST Act expiring on Sept. 30.
In addition to directly lobbying lawmakers, AED launched an unprecedented grassroots campaign to convey the importance of infrastructure investment for the equipment industry and the broader economy and the need for long-term certainty. Since the House had already approved a large infrastructure package, AED targeted U.S. senators. In total, AED's distributor and manufacturer members delivered nearly 1,000 letters and emails, reaching all 100 U.S. senate offices.
The immediate result of AED's efforts were clear. At the end of September, Congress approved a one-year extension of the FAST Act, including $13.6 billion to maintain the Highway Trust Fund's solvency, which has suffered due to reductions in federal fuel tax revenues.
While a one-year extension of the FAST Act isn't the multi-year surface transportation bill the equipment industry was hoping for, it was a win in the current political environment.
"AED members from across the country participated in our unprecedented grassroots campaign, and Congress' action demonstrates the effort's success," said AED's President and CEO Brian P. McGuire. "Lawmakers heard loud and clear that short term doesn't work when it comes to the Highway Trust Fund, and the industry needed a longer-term solution with additional funding to ensure critical road and bridge projects continue well into next year."
After securing the one-year FAST Act extension, AED and the broader construction industry did not give up on seeking more funding for surface transportation infrastructure projects. Another COVID-19 relief package was likely, and infrastructure investment needed to be a part of it.
To ensure the message was delivered to the highest levels, AED organized its members' engagement in targeted states that were represented in Senate Republican leadership. AED also worked together with the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association to include key aggregate producers. Pairing equipment distributors with some of their customers, particularly in Kentucky and Indiana, sent a powerful message about the importance of targeted funding for state DOTs to fund road and bridge projects.
In the end, Congress provided $10 billion of direct funding to state DOTs in the most recent COVID relief package, a significant victory for AED and the construction sector.
"I have no doubt, AED's efforts were integral in securing the state DOT funding," said Michael Brennan, CEO of Brandeis Machinery & Supply Co. and AED's immediate past chairman. Brennan participated in some of these efforts.
"The grassroots efforts and congressional meetings, combined with targeted communications organized by AED, were undoubtedly essential and impactful. The extra funding should allow our customers working on road and highway construction projects to be busy through the 2021 construction season," added Brennan.
More funding could be on the way. Early indications are that the Biden administration and House and Senate Democratic leaders plan to make infrastructure investment a top priority, in the first few months of 2021.
AED will continue to push the message that infrastructure projects are the best way to get the U.S. economy back on track.