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NECA 2014 National Legislative Conference Featured in Bloomberg BNA

May 15, 2014

NECA Conference Covered Member Concerns About Pensions, Infrastructure

The NECA 2014 National Legislative Conference was featured in Bloomberg BNA on May 12, 2014, as NECA’s Executive Director of Government Affairs, Marco Giamberardino, discussed the significance of the conference and the goals of the industry. Giamberardino discussed the issues that were most important when NECA members met with their representatives on Capitol Hill in early May.

In the article, Giamberardino went into detail on the topics that NECA contractors were most concerned with during the conference. These topics include preserving the multiemployer system, funding for infrastructure, and energy policy. He also spoke about legislation that is important to NECA which members discussed with their congressional representatives. 

This article in Bloomberg BNA highlights NECA’s continued importance on the electrical contracting industry and influence in legislation that affects the industry.  It also highlights the tremendous success of the Legislative Conference as members of Congress clearly took note of the concerns of the NECA members they met with. 

Learn more about the 2014 Legislative Conference

Release from Bloomberg BNA; May 9, 2014 By 

Elliott T. Dube

May 12 — The National Electrical Contractors Association‘s annual legislative conference gave NECA members the chance to “tell their story” to federal lawmakers regarding time-sensitive legislative topics involving pension reform, infrastructure investment and energy policy, a NECA official told Bloomberg BNA May 9.By Elliott T. Dube

According to NECA's website, the May 6-8 conference brought about 150 contractors from across the country to Washington, D.C., to participate in more than 250 meetings with members of Congress.

Marco Giamberardino, the trade association's executive director for government affairs, said the conference saw NECA and lawmakers “laying the groundwork for a lot of serious action” as the construction industry heads into the busy summer and fall seasons.

Speakers at the conference included Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Or.), Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.); Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.); former Reps. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.); and Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report.

The speakers shared a “very good message across the board of the need for Congress to find a way to work together” on infrastructure investment and other issues with broad, bipartisan appeal, Giamberardino said. In general, he said, NECA members found lawmakers they met with “very responsive.”

NECA Looks to Preserve Multiemployer System

The scheduled expiration of the multiemployer plan provisions of the Pension Protection Act (PPA) at the end of 2014 has been a “looming issue” for NECA members and was under serious discussion during the conference, Giamberardino said. NECA contractors participating in the multiemployer system “want to protect their investment, and they want to keep their promises to their workers,” he said.

NECA has been “deeply involved” with the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, Giamberardino said. The committee joined with stakeholders from business and labor groups to form the Retirement Security Review Commission, which in February 2013 produced a set of recommendations geared towards strengthening the multi-employer system and helping plans about to become insolvent (58 CLR 1520, 2/21/13).

The commission's report suggested multiple technical tweaks to the PPA that it said would improve plans' financial stability. The commission also recommended that “deeply troubled” plans meeting certain criteria be allowed to suspend benefits and ward off complete insolvency by applying for approval from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. In addition, the report promoted two alternative plan designs—“variable annuity” plans, which reduce contributing employers' exposure to withdrawal liability, and “target benefit” plans that eliminate such liability.

NECA wants lawmakers to support any forthcoming legislation based on the commission's recommendations, Giamberardino said.

“Plans nationwide—many of them need these reforms,” he said. “It would be a way to help preserve the existing system by giving the additional tools needed by many of the plans that want to shore up their current plans and make sure that those benefits are out there for their employees for many years to come.”

“There are plenty of contractors out there who would like to get involved in these plans and have access to that talent pool of workers,” he added. “But the current withdrawal liability risks in many cases [are] too much of a financial risk for these contractors.”

NECA members are also concerned about the transitional reinsurance program established by the Affordable Care Act, Giamberardino said. Under the program, all health insurance issuers and self-insured group health plans must make annual fee payments to help stabilize premiums in the individual health insurance market for high-cost individuals. For 2014, the first year of the three-year program, insurers will owe $63 for each person covered by a health plan.

Of a surface transportation reauthorization, Giamberardino said, “We need to make sure it's not a temporary fix, that it's a vigorous and well-funded multiyear program, not a two-year patch like we've had the last go-around.”

Giamberardino pointed out that the majority of multiemployer plans in which NECA contractors participate are self-insured.

“We understand the need for the transitional reinsurance program,” he said. “But we don't agree with the current funding for that program, because it's frankly on the backs of the entire self-insured system.”

“It's a means of putting our health and welfare plans at greater financial risk,” he said.

Infrastructure Authorization, Funding Remain Key

NECA members also focused on infrastructure investment in their meetings with lawmakers, Giamberardino said. He said NECA members do infrastructure work “all across the board of every kind,” from bridge and highway lighting to outside line work to building wastewater pumping stations.

One related topic of major concern to NECA members is the unclear future of the highway trust fund, Giamberardino said. The Department of Transportation is projecting that the trust fund will experience an August 2014 shortfall in its ability to pay for road and bridge construction. The trust fund uses revenue from the federal fuel tax, which Giamberardino noted has lost its purchasing power since Congress last increased it in 1993. He also said the spread of fuel-efficient vehicles has reduced the amount of money going to the trust fund.

Giamberardino also said NECA members are open-minded as to how lawmakers deal with the scheduled expiration in September of the two-year MAP-21 law to authorize and fund surface transportation projects.

“We are open to all possible avenues of funding the program, and we're encouraging Congress to do everything they can to figure out how to make it work,” he said. “I think the one solid ‘ask' that I think we all have at this point is: We need to make sure it's not a temporary fix, that it's a vigorous and well-funded multiyear program, not a two-year patch like we've had the last go-around.”

Farther along in the legislative process is the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. The bill would be the first reauthorization of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects involving environmental restoration, port maintenance and flood control since 2007. House and Senate conferees announced May 8 that they have reached a final agreement on the legislation.

Giamberardino said following NECA's conference, the trade association is “very encouraged” as to the likelihood that the water resources bill will become law in the coming weeks. He said NECA members sent lawmakers a general message of, “Let's get it done.”

Energy policy was another issue that rose to the surface during the conference, Giamberardino said. In the face of economic uncertainty over the past decade, he said, many of NECA's members have changed their business model to provide energy solutions beyond the scope of electrical contracting.

“This new energy economy is something that requires the type of expertise our members can offer,” he said. “That's why you see our members getting involved in fracking, in energy storage issues, in renewables like never before.”

NECA's overall message on energy policy during the conference was to promote an “all of the above” strategy in terms of developing available energy resources, Giamberardino said. He also said NECA supports the extension of tax incentives to encourage investment in energy efficiency, which have “very much kept the doors open” for numerous NECA contractors.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elliott T. Dube in Washington at edube@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Karen Ertel at kertel@bna.com