CAM 6th Annual Legislative Breakfast
Bipartisan Support for the Construction Industry
CAM lobbyist Jason Wadaga of Kindsvatter, Dalling & Associates moderated the event welcoming Sen. Curtis VanderWall (R) of Ludington, Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D) of East Lansing, Rep. Joseph Bellino (R) of Monroe and Rep. Joe Tate (D) of Detroit to the legislative panel.
Although the group split down party lines on some issues, there was resounding bipartisanship on the issue of how to spend Michigan’s $6 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding — infrastructure. And although negotiations continue, both sides place confidence in bipartisanship to get construction projects off the ground to support the industry and the people of Michigan.
American Rescue Plan Act of 2021
The event kicked off on the topic of Michigan’s increase in federal pandemic relief funding. In March 2021, President Biden signed into law the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to mitigate the ongoing economic toll of the pandemic. In June 2021, Michigan lawmakers allocated $6.6 billion of this funding to go toward pandemic relief.
“For me, the most important thing we can do as legislators is get the American Rescue [Plan] funding out the door. It helps nobody in the state for the state of Michigan to hold $6 billion, which is supposed to be about investing in our future and recovery from the pandemic,” Sen. Hertel said.
“We have huge needs in terms of infrastructure and the water infrastructure within our state. We’ve seen a huge need with dam problems within our state. We have a huge need in building talent in our state, bringing in companies with shovel-ready sites — all things that we can agree to. This is not hard. This is a matter of being in a room, shutting a door and sitting down. We can all put our plans on paper, but that’s not worth a damn to the people who need help around our state.”
Rep. Bellino said he could not emphasize more strongly the need to get this money out.
“We have all this funding sitting there. We have to start negotiating. We have to start getting things built and done. We have the money. Personally, as a Republican, I don’t want to have five more new programs with 7,000 employees. I want to fix the water lines, build the tunnel, fix our bridges and fix our roads,” Bellino said.
Rep. Tate said the issue of getting funding to water infrastructure is particularly an issue within his district, which comprises the eastside of Detroit bordering the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair.
“Two years ago, we had high lake levels and we had to hold back lakes and rivers from getting into our neighborhoods. It becomes exhausting and becomes a cost not only to our local governments but to the people that live there as well. People are living in places where their basements are being flooded every 18 months just because we do not have a reliable water infrastructure,” Tate said.
Rep. Bellino lightened the mood.
“Who would’ve thought four years ago the biggest problem in Lansing is that we have too much money and are fighting about the money? I guess it is a good problem to have, especially compared to when the recession was happening.”
As a returning theme for this year’s discussion, all participants agreed that Prompt Pay is a reasonable bill that they would like to see advance into law. The bill would require the private sector to pay contractors within a reasonable timeframe after a project is completed.
House Bill 5375, which covers Prompt Pay, was first introduced by Rep. Brian Elder (D) of Bay City in January 2020. Rep. Bellino and Rep. Tate are also sponsors of the bill. It has yet to pass the Michigan House of Representatives.
“In Lansing, you hear a lot of stories about how we fight and don’t like each other, but I’m sitting next to someone I respect so much,” Rep. Bellino said. “I would run through a brick wall for Joe [Tate], we are doing stuff together, and I respect him. There are only a few items on which we don’t agree. This is just something we have to get done.”
All states require a form of Prompt Pay within the public sector. However, only 30 states have Prompt Pay laws on the books for the private sector. This has led to some contractors waiting as many as 180 days for payment to clear.
“Prior to being elected to this office, I worked in economic development for the city of Detroit listening to small businesses and subcontractors,” Rep. Tate said. “This was a big issue. If you are going past 30 days, that’s going to be a problem paying your bills at the end of the day.”
Rep. Bellino said he sponsored the bill out of common sense.
“I worked 23 years in beer and wine and we would give a check that day. When I was learning about Prompt Pay, I didn’t understand the issue at all because it wasn’t in my lexicon to not pay someone for the work they do,” Bellino added.
Sen. VanderWall said he agrees with the panel.
'We need to look at unique situations and certain organizations we are contracting with. The schools are a perfect example where you have to have a school board approve it and it could take a long time, but 180 days is just ridiculous. I can tell you as a small business owner, I have certain clients do that to me too. It really causes a major problem. I look forward to working with these folks on these bills.”
Hero Pay within the Construction Industry
Deemed as an essential part of the workforce, construction workers did not relent in building Michigan’s infrastructure and businesses throughout the pandemic. They braved changing laws and economic turmoil, working to the best of their ability when the future was uncertain.
“There is a big discussion about hero pay. If we are doing hero pay, absolutely the construction industry should be part of it,” Sen. Hertel said.
Hero Pay would see workers deemed essential during the brunt of the pandemic rewarded with extra income paid for by the state. According to the state, essential workers are defined as workers within the fields of chemical supply chains; communications and information technology; critical manufacturing; defense industrial base; energy sector; financial services; food and agriculture; hazardous materials; health care and public health; law enforcement, public safety and first responders; public works; transportation and logistics; water and wastewater; and critical infrastructure workers.
“I agree with Curtis,” Sen. VanderWall said.
"When you talk about hero pay, you have to go down the line of what jobs are important. You guys were out there during the whole thing. Those folks who came and stuck it through and allowed you to complete jobs in a timely fashion; we need to look at what we can do to make sure they are taken care of. We need to let the people know we are working for them, not the other way around. We need to make sure that what we are doing is helping your business, not hindering it.”
On November 4, 2021, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard or ETS mandating all companies with over 100 employees to require proof of vaccination or submit to a weekly COVID-19 test. The ETS would take effect on January 4. The panel split down party lines on this topic.
Rep. Bellino said the mandate will hurt an already struggling economy looking to fill labor gaps during a labor shortage.
“Yesterday I had a phone call with DTE and Consumers. We are extremely short on linemen like many people here are short in their own disciplines. And then we are going to make them get vaccines by January for DTE and Consumers? How are we going to get our infrastructure fixed if we are 20 percent down on workers already? To go out there blindly and say ‘if you are this big you have to have it and if you are this big you don’t have to have it,’ then I have a problem with that.”
Rep. Tate said he supports the mandate though there is no clear answer to please everyone on this topic.
“What we are seeing are decisions being made to support and protect our communities. I think that everyone could agree that in order to protect people from COVID in our situation, there certainly needs to be a response.”
Sen. Hertel said the wording of the order could’ve been better. “It is more like a testing mandate with a vaccine opt-out,” he said.
“The history of this country is certainly about freedom, but it is also about sacrifice — it’s how we’ve gotten through some of the toughest times in this country. What I can tell you is that phones and the internet, in general, have divided us into bubbles where we have access to our own facts and our own sciences. It has put us to an issue where there are many ways two Americas. We have to come together and make this sacrifice, and that is the way it has always been.”
Sen. VanderWall agreed with Hertel’s point on separate bubbles and a lack of good information.
“I think we’ve done a poor job of education and tried to ‘fear’ people into getting the vaccine. I believe it is a personal choice, and the best way we can go is to continue to put the data out there and let people make the decisions themselves,” Sen. VanderWall emphasized.
“We know that 87% of people who take the vaccine do not end up getting COVID or going to the hospital. We know that the folks who have had the vaccine have a much lighter case if they do get COVID. But we haven’t gone out and proved that to the American citizen. When someone tries to pull up and force something down our throats, we dig our heels in.”
Sen. Vanderwall said he opposes the mandate.
“We already have a major shortfall on employees and have some of our largest companies say we are 20 percent short on help right now with only 28 percent of a workforce vaccination rate. What are they going to do besides close down and move out? We can’t afford to do that.”
Per executive order, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer enacted prevailing wage standards to cover all state construction projects on October 7, 2021. “By reinstating prevailing wage, we are ensuring that working people get treated with dignity and respect, which starts with a fair wage,” Whitmer said in an announcement.
In June 2018, Michigan’s legislature repealed the prevailing wage law. A total of 24 states have repealed their prevailing wage laws.
Sen. Hertel said that he supports prevailing wage laws for state projects and beyond. “I believe she had every legal right to reinstate that,” he added.
Sen. VanderWall said the law is not necessary.
“I understand where this room sits on prevailing wage. I believe business has an opportunity, and we have already seen wages grow. I believe in the free market and believe each and every one of you can operate without prevailing wage and do a better job than if that was locked in.”
In a split from party lines, Rep. Bellino said that he supports prevailing wage. This topic is something Bellino has been consistent on. In 2016, he refused to vote to repeal prevailing wage. “I think I’ll probably get lambasted for saying this, but I think my party has beat up my union far too long and that’s where I sit on that.”
Rep. Tate said he agrees with Bellino.
“In my mind, it shows that we are supporting not only workers but their families,” Rep. Tate added. “It is a critical part of our state.”
The panel discussion wrapped up with CAM lobbyist Jason Wadaga moderating questions submitted by attendees. The Construction Association of Michigan will continue to monitor developments in Lansing and keep its membership apprised of important changes.
Vice President Governmental Affairs
Kindsvatter Dalling & Associates
Jason serves as KDA’s lead lobbyist. He can typically be found in legislative meetings, committee hearings and at legislative session representing KDA’s lobby clients. He also serves as the Executive Director for three of KDA’s association management clients, including the Construction Association of Michigan.
His career includes extensive experience in politics and the legislature. He started his political career as a Sophomore at Northern Michigan University working on a variety of campaigns which brought him to Lansing. He spent nine years in the Michigan Legislature working in a variety of roles including serving as the Chief-of-Staff to State Senator Rick Jones before joining KDA. Born and raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Jason lives in East Lansing with his wife Kimberly and sons Nolan and Reid.
- MCA Detroit,
- Operating Engineers Local 324
- Michigan’s Regional Council of Carpenters
- Laborers Local 1191 - LECET
- Laborers Local 1076 - LECT
- Michigan Building & Construction Trades Council
- BAC Local 2
- OPCMIA Local 514
- John E. Green Company
- CAM Comp
- Novara, Tesija, Catenacci, McDonald & Bass
- Watkins Pawlick, Calati & Prifti, PC
- National Electrical Contractors Association - Southeastern Michigan Chapter
- Superior Materials LLC
- Construction Federal Credit Union
- J.J. Barney Construction Inc.
- BeneSys Inc.