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CT Construction Digest Wednesday November 13, 2019

Nonunion contractors rap project labor deals
By Stephen Singer
As Gov. Ned Lamont works to overcome resistance to his proposal for highway tolling from activists at the grassroots and skeptics and opponents in the General Assembly, he’s drawing criticism from nonunion building contractors who face the prospect of being barred from competing for construction work. Lamont has assured organized labor in Connecticut that his administration will honor so -called project labor agreements, which are bargaining pacts that apply to construction projects. Lamont sees labor on board his recently revised $21 billion transportation plan as a key component of his sales pitch to the legislature. On Tuesday, he showed the other side of his formula: business support for modernizing transportation systems in the state. Executives at Aetna, pharmaceutical manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim, The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., Stanley Black & Decker Inc., The Travelers Cos. Inc. and United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney said improved transportation is essential for economic growth in Connecticut. Nonunion contractors say Lamont’s support of project labor agreements is favoritism based on politics, repayment to the Connecticut AFL-CIO for its early backing of his 2018 campaign. And they say a lack of competition for construction jobs by excluding nonunion companies drives up taxpayer costs. “You’re discriminating against companies that are not affiliated with a union, preventing … an opportunity to compete for projects funded by taxpayers,” said Chris Fryxell, president of the Connecticut chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade association representing 207 companies. He said 85% of Connecticut’s construction industry is nonunion. Sal Luciano, president of the AFL-CIO, said use of project labor agreements is “important because it will protect taxpayers by eliminating costly delays due to labor conflicts or a shortage of skilled workers.” “Project labor agreements are done on time and on budget and they also assure hiring is done locally and the next generation of construction workers are given on-the-job-training,” he said at a news conference last week with Lamont as the governor promoted his plan. Fryxell said project labor agreement pledges by Lamont could run afoul of 2012 state law that allows for such agreements when it’s been determined on a “project-by-project” basis. Decisions on projects around the state have not yet been made. “There’s no way they could have looked into whether it’s in the public’s best interest,” Fryxell said. Lamont defended project labor agreements as a way to hire local workers, boost job training and guarantee construction jobs that pay top dollar. “It says there’s a condition that there are apprenticeship programs and more people in Connecticut can get the skills they need going forward,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure that these are good-paying Connecticut jobs and a project labor agreement helps me do that.” Fryxell said it’s not a question of prevailing wage, which is the rate of pay contractors and vendors must offer employees when doing business with a government agency. “This is a large public project so prevailing wage applies,” he said. “Prevailing wage levels the playing field. Nonunion contractors are building things every single day and doing it extremely well.” David Roche, president of the Connecticut State Building Trades Council, agreed that the issue is less about compensation and more about a project labor agreement’s requirements for hiring local and minority workers and veterans and using apprenticeship programs. Public construction projects such as schools are just as likely to be contracted out to nonunion firms as companies with a unionized workforce, he said. Fryxell said costs jump 15% to 20% when projects go out to bid and draw fewer responses as nonunion firms are eliminated, reducing competition among bidders. Project labor agreements also require costly, inefficient and “antiquated work rules” such as prohibitions against plumbers from doing the work of pipe fitters, he said. Roche defended the work rules. “A carpenter should do carpenter’s work and laborers do what laborers do. That’s how they’re trained,” he said. And the argument that project labor agreements drive up costs is false, he said. “We get beat up here every once in e said.

Connecticut’s businessman-governor tries to make a sale

Gov. Ned Lamont’s abilities as a salesman and political strategist are being tested as he enlists corporations and unions in a renewed effort to convince the General Assembly that the key to stable economic growth in Connecticut is a comprehensive and reliably funded vision for a 21st-century transportation system.
The first-year governor, a former cable entrepreneur intent on building partnerships with business, held a press conference Tuesday to celebrate statements of support from seven major employers in Connecticut, though no corporation was represented and it is unclear whether any CEOs will engage in the direct lobbying of lawmakers on the governor’s behalf. 
“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from folks, positive feedback from the business community,” Lamont said.
Cigna, Stanley Black & Decker, Pratt & Whitney, Boehringer Ingelheim, Aetna, Travelers and The Hartford issued statements supporting the aims of the governor’s CT2030 plan, while stopping short in several cases of urging passage of the plan as currently written.
“A modern, efficient transportation system is vital to our state’s competitiveness,” said a statement issued by Robert F. Leduc, the president of Pratt & Whitney. “The governor’s proposal is an important step forward. I urge all of our leaders in state government to work together with urgency to pass a fiscally responsible transportation plan that will help position Connecticut for the future.”
While all urged legislators to work with Lamont, only the chief executive of Stanley Black & Decker pointedly asked that lawmakers support the governor’s plan, including its reliance on limited highway tolling to finance it.
“Fixing the state’s transportation infrastructure is an essential component to improve Connecticut’s competitiveness, economic development and growth, as well as to improve the quality of life for all residents,” said James M. Loree of Stanley. “While no one wants to increase costs to Connecticut residents, we believe the proposal provides reasonable funding mechanisms for a statewide, comprehensive transportation plan.”
Lamont wants to use $320 million in annual revenue from 14 tolls to leverage low-cost federal financing of projects that he says would restore the state’s infrastructure to a state of good repair, speed commutes on Metro-North and highways, and stabilize the Special Transportation Fund. Legislators generally applaud the scope of his plan, while balking at even limited tolls.   “I urge our state legislators to set aside their partisan differences and embrace the governor’s plan,” Loree said. “Connecticut’s ability to attract and retain businesses for healthy economic growth and job creation depends on it.”
Will Loree be delivering that message to lawmakers in a personal way, working the phones?
“We don’t have a specific plan outlined, but we would look for opportunities where we could be supportive going forward,” Shannon Lapierre, the vice president of communications at Stanley, said in a telephone interview.
Lamont smiled when asked if the endorsements might carry more weight if the companies’ chief executives stood with him Tuesday. “I hope they are investing in the state of Connecticut, hiring people and making a profit,” Lamont said. “That’s what they do.”The governor and his top aides are to meet Wednesday with the Senate Democratic majority, whose leaders see any tolls as politically risky without a measure of Republican support that does not appear to be coming.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Monday his caucus is working on an alternative without any new revenue, while Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said Democrats might look to alternatives such as legalizing sports betting and recreational marijuana.
Lamont was dubious of financing the plan without new revenue, saying that shifting $320 million in existing appropriations to transportation was impractical. And he doubted that pot or gambling could provide a revenue stream necessary to pay off federal loans.
Lamont did not have a particularly forceful answer when asked what he would say to Democrats rattled by the municipal elections. Democrats made some gains, but Republicans did well in at least four communities where the GOP made tolls an issue. 

“Obviously municipal elections were a whole variety of things, and I think Democrats did pretty well in that,” Lamont said. “But more importantly, I don’t think this is an issue you want to linger. It’s lingered for the last 20 years. Do you really want this hanging over you?”
In response to questions, Lamont went off script and said he was willing to campaign publicly for tolls, perhaps holding a town-hall style meeting in a community where a tolling gantry is planned. But that is not an element of his administration’s current plans, which focus on lawmakers.
Union leaders promise to push Democrats to support the plan, but those calls have not yet started.
“We haven’t worked anybody yet,” said David Roche, the leader of the Connecticut Building Trades. “We’re waiting to see where the dust settles.”
The Lamont administration says CT2030 would generate 26,000 construction jobs every year for the next decade. Overall unemployment is low in Connecticut, but Roche says construction is lagging.
“In the construction trade, we need jobs. There’s not a whole lot right now,” Roche said. “I’ve got guys going to Massachusetts right now, paying tolls, and going to New New York, paying tolls.”

Democrats cautious as Lamont prepares to pitch transportation plan

Mark Pazniokas
Gov. Ned Lamont will walk into the Senate Democratic majority caucus Wednesday morning to pitch CT2030, his new $21 billion transportation plan, knowing he has yet to find a full-throated champion for it among fellow Democrats in the upper chamber, only quiet sympathizers, wary skeptics and a few resolute opponents.
The governor is expected to reiterate what he told the House Democratic majority on Friday: He sees CT2030 as crucial to growing Connecticut’s stagnant economy, and anyone opposed to the limited highway tolls in his financing plan should be prepared to support an alternative capable of raising the same $320 million a year.

“You’ve got to have an alternative,” Lamont said. “I think people know now we need to do it. The question is how do you pay for it?”
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said Monday that his caucus remains wary of embracing tolls without some Republican support — something that Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, conceded was unlikely with the GOP already deep at work on a tolls-free alternative.
Fasano said the governor has a reasonable rationale for limited tolling: A toll is a user fee and an estimated 40 percent of the new revenue would come from out of state drivers. But he said the governor cannot overcome Republican suspicions that the number and price of tolls would increase, even if Lamont’s proposal would fix the scope and pricing in law. “A lot of people would say if you paid for something you use, it makes sense,” Fasano said. “It’s a trust-in-government issue and future legislatures and legislators that are are going to say, ‘Tolls are here, let’s do more.’ And that’s where the plan is running into a wall.”
Looney was careful Monday not to rule out his caucus eventually being sold on CT2030, saying he had yet to gauge support since last week’s rollout. But Looney also said he expects Democrats to explore alternatives to tolls, including the legalization of sports betting and recreational marijuana.
Democrats hold a 22-14 advantage in the 36-seat Senate. Eleven are first-term senators, and five are in seats wrested from Republicans in 2018. Lamont could afford to lose no more than four Democratic votes and still pass CT2030. (An 18-18 tie would be broken by the presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.)
Rank-and-file Senate Democrats reacted cautiously, if not cooly, to CT2030 in interviews Friday and Monday, noting opposition to tolls has taken root since Lamont’s initial proposal in February and was a factor in some municipal races last week.
“I think the boat was missed,” said Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague.
 “I really wish this was the plan or the approach in February,” said Sen. Norman Needleman, D-Essex, noting that the new plan outlines projects to be built, an oversight February. “It’s not starting with, ‘Give me the money, and trust me’ ”
Osten and Needleman are the two Democratic senators who also run their communities as first selectmen. Needleman was re-elected a week ago. Osten, whose vote for a tolls bill at a committee meeting was an issue during the election, lost.
“I don’t attribute it all to tolls,” Osten said.
Osten said the Republicans made her a target, capitalizing on a budget shortfall that she blamed on the Board of Education. And her reservations about the plan have as much to do with its reliance on some general-obligation borrowing, which she says should be used for capital expenditures other than transportation.
The GOP also flipped control of local governments in Wethersfield, Rocky Hill and Newington, where Republicans made tolls an issue, albeit to varying degrees. All three communities are represented by Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, who was non-committal Monday about CT2030.“I’m trying to understand how it affects my district, like everyone else is,” Lesser said. “I’m processing it, talking to local officials.”
CT2030 would remove a traffic signal on Route 9 that is the source of backups during weekday commutes and on summer weekends, when the state highway is taken to the shoreline by beachgoers. A toll would be placed on Route 9 to finance the $90 million to $180 million cost of redesigning the highway and constructing a new bridge to eliminate the current intersection with local roads.
The new plan cuts its reliance on tolling revenue by more than half. The original plan called for at least 50 gantries on Route 15 and Interstates 84, 91 and 95, raising nearly $800 million. CT2030 calls for tolls on 14 bridges, with the revenue dedicated to financing their repair, remodeling or new construction.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, are generally supportive of CT2030, giving Lamont something in the House that he lacks in the Senate — a champion in the ranks of leadership.
Ritter said the backlog of transportation infrastructure maintenance, the need for improvements to speed up highway and commuter rail commutes, and the approaching insolvency of the Special Transportation Fund all demand legislative action.
“People have to stop being lazy legislatively and propose things and have a real debate and conversation on this,” Ritter said. “The intellectual dishonesty of saying no is unfair.”
In 1991, Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. managed to pass the income tax over the objections of the Senate’s Democratic leaders, President Pro Tem John B. Larson of East Hartford and Majority Leader Cornelius O’Leary of Windsor Locks.But Weicker had a champion in Sen. William A. D-Bella, D-Hartford, the co-chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. Lamont has no one playing that role now, and the problem goes deeper than a reluctance to embrace tolls.
“I think people like me and others would be willing to champion the transportation initiative if they saw a governor who is more engaged and understanding the needs of the members and where they come from in their home districts,” said Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, the co-chair of the finance panel.
Fonfara said the governor’s deep cuts in borrowing have undermined a range of legislative priorities, including the continued financing of affordable housing and the remediation of polluted brown fields, a major issue in cities struggling with an industrial past. Legislators would like to believe that Lamont has broader interests than transportation, he said. “There is a lot [more] to their agenda than this one proposal,” Fonfara said, “And, heretofore, he has not been willing to entertain that.”

Gov. Ned Lamont to hold town halls on tolls as he touts business support

Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday he will hold town hall meetings to get public feedback on his revised transportation plan that has still not received support from the state legislature.
After unveiling a $21 billion, 10-year proposal, Lamont is now in the selling phase as he tries to convince the state House of Representatives and Senate to jump on board his updated plan that would have 14 tolls on eight highways across the state. The legislature has rejected his previous plans over the past nine months.
During a press conference to tout support from some top business executives, Lamont was asked if he would hold town halls.“I think I should do some town meetings just to make my case — look people in the eye and say why this is absolutely key from a quality of life point of view and a job point of view for the future of this state,” Lamont told reporters.Lamont did not reveal a detailed schedule but said he would start the meetings “pretty soon.” He said he would conduct one in West Haven, where a gantry is expected to be erected — but he backed off when asked if he would do a town hall in all 14 towns with proposed gantries that would stretch from Greenwich to Groton.
“I’ll tell you what it means to West Haven," Lamont said. “I’ll tell you how it speeds up transportation there. I’ll tell you what Sikorsky or Tweed means to opening up economic opportunities in the central part of the state, where it’s been stagnant for 40 years. I’m happy to make that case.”
As part of his broad-based transportation proposal, Lamont is calling for expanding one of the airports and improving air traffic at either Tweed New Haven or Sikorsky Memorial in Stratford to establish a second major airport in Connecticut. 
For months, Lamont’s transportation plans have lacked the necessary votes in the Democratic-controlled state Senate, where lawmakers have been trying to generate Republican support in order to pass something on a bipartisan basis. All 14 Senate Republicans, however, have remained steadfast against tolls. The caucus is currently working on an alternative plan that would improve transportation without tolls, Senate Republican leader Len Fasano said recently, but he could not say when that plan will be ready.
“If they have an alternative, now is the time to come forward,” Lamont said. “If you have another option that is credible and the numbers add up, speak now or forever hold your peace."
In an effort to convince recalcitrant legislators, Lamont is touting support from top executives in the business community, even though the executives didn’t specifically mention tolls in their statements.
On Monday, five chief executive officers from Aetna, Travelers, The Hartford, Stanley Black & Decker and Boehringer Ingelheim called for improvements in the transportation infrastructure in statements released to The Courant. On Tuesday morning, East Hartford-based Pratt & Whitney joined the list. “I commend Governor Lamont for making transportation a key priority for Connecticut," said Pratt President Robert F. Leduc. “A modern, efficient transportation system is vital to our state’s competitiveness. The governor’s proposal is an important step forward. I urge all of our leaders in state government to work together with urgency to pass a fiscally responsible transportation plan that will help position Connecticut for the future.”
When asked why none of the business executives appeared with him at the news conference Tuesday, Lamont said, “I hope they’re investing in the state of Connecticut, hiring people and making a profit. That’s what they do.”
Lamont said business executives would directly call recalcitrant legislators in an effort to pass the plan, but the calls have not yet begun.
Despite numerous setbacks and delays on votes by the legislature, Lamont is pushing forward with his revised plan.
"I think everybody is taking a second look,'' he said. "We’ll see what happens.''

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