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CT Construction Digest Thursday April 1, 2021













Please observe all COVID-19 safety protocols, including wearing a mask, social distancing, etc……….

Biden announces huge infrastructure plan to 'win the future'

PITTSBURGH (AP) — President Joe Biden outlined a huge $2.3 trillion plan Wednesday to reengineer the nation’s infrastructure in what he billed as “a once-in-a-generation investment in America” that would undo his predecessor’s signature legislative achievement — giant tax cuts for corporations — in the process.

Speaking at a carpenters union training center in Pittsburgh, Biden drew comparisons between his hard-hatted proposed transformation of the U.S. economy and the space race — and promised results as grand in scale as the New Deal or Great Society programs that shaped the 20th century.

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges," Biden said. "It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago. In fact, it’s the largest American jobs investment since World War II. It will create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs.”

White House officials say the spending would generate those jobs as the country shifts away from fossil fuels and combats the perils of climate change. It is also an effort to compete with the technology and public investments made by China, which has the world’s second-largest economy and is fast gaining on the United States’ dominant position.

“I’m convinced that if we act now, in 50 years people are going to look back and say this is the moment when America won the future,” Biden said.

The Democratic president’s infrastructure projects would be financed by higher corporate taxes — a trade-off that could lead to fierce resistance from the business community and thwart attempts to work with Republican lawmakers. Biden hopes to pass an infrastructure plan by summer, which could mean relying solely on the slim Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate.

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The higher corporate taxes would aim to raise the necessary piles of money over 15 years and then reduce the deficit going forward. In doing so, Biden would undo the 2017 tax overhaul by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans and lift the corporate tax rate to 28% from the 21% rate.

“Ninety-one Fortune 500 Companies, including Amazon, pay not a single solitary penny in income tax,” Biden said.

Wednesday's announcement will be followed in coming weeks by Biden pushing a companion bill of roughly equal size for investments in child care, family tax credits and other domestic programs. That nearly $2 trillion package would be paid for by tax hikes on wealthy individuals and families.

“Wall Street didn’t build this country," Biden said. "You, the great middle class, built this country. And unions built the middle class.”

Biden's choice of Pittsburgh for unveiling the plan carried important economic and political resonance. He not only won Pittsburgh and its surrounding county to help secure the presidency, but he launched his campaign there in 2019. The city famed for steel mills that powered America’s industrial rise has steadily pivoted toward technology and health care, drawing in college graduates in a sign of how economies can change.

The White House says the largest chunk of the proposal includes $621 billion for roads, bridges, public transit, electric vehicle charging stations and other transportation infrastructure. The spending would push the country away from internal combustion engines that the auto industry views as increasingly antiquated technology.

An additional $111 billion would go to replace lead water pipes and upgrade sewers. Broadband internet would blanket the country for $100 billion. Separately, $100 billion would upgrade the power grid to deliver clean electricity. Homes would get retrofitted, schools modernized, workers trained and hospitals renovated under the plan, which also seeks to strengthen U.S. manufacturing.

The new construction could keep the economy running hot, coming on the heels of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Economists already estimate it could push growth above 6% this year.

To keep companies from shifting profits overseas to avoid taxation, a 21% global minimum tax would be imposed. The tax code would also be updated so that companies could not merge with foreign businesses and avoid taxes by moving their headquarters to a tax haven. And among other provisions, it would increase IRS audits of corporations.

Biden appealed for Republicans and the business community to join him in negotiations on the bill, but the legislative prospects for Biden's twin proposals already appear to hinge on Democrats coming up with the votes on their own through the budget reconciliation process, which requires just a simple majority in the 50-50 Senate.

“I’m going to bring Republicans into the Oval Office, listen to them, what they have to say and be open to other ideas," Biden said. "We’ll have a good faith negotiation. Any Republican who wants to help get this done. But we have to get it done.”

Democratic leaders embraced Biden’s plan Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said it would create millions of jobs.

“I look forward to working with President Biden to pass a big, bold plan that will drive America forward for decades to come,” Schumer said at an event in Buffalo.

But Republican opposition to Biden’s ambitious proposal came swiftly, and with resolve for the long brawl ahead.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the package as nothing more than a “Trojan horse” for tax hikes.

Republicans on Capitol Hill view the fight as a defining moment for the parties, framing it as a choice between Democrats intent on relying on government to solve the nation’s problems and a GOP that believes the private sector can best unleash the nation’s potential.

Smarting over Biden’s intent to undo the 2017 tax cuts has only solidified what could amount to a wall of GOP opposition.

The business community favors updating U.S. infrastructure but dislikes higher tax rates. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley said in a statement that “we applaud the Biden administration for making infrastructure a top priority. However, we believe the proposal is dangerously misguided when it comes to how to pay for infrastructure.” The Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs, would rather have infrastructure funded with user fees such as tolls.

Trump, in a statement, blasted his successor’s proposal, claiming it “would be among the largest self-inflicted economic wounds in history.”

Infrastructure spending usually holds the promise of juicing economic growth, but by how much remains a subject of political debate. Commutes and shipping times could be shortened, while public health would be improved and construction jobs would bolster consumer spending.

Standard & Poor’s chief U.S. economist, Beth Ann Bovino, estimated last year that a $2.1 trillion boost in infrastructure spending could add as much as $5.7 trillion in income to the entire economy over a decade. Those kinds of analyses have led liberal Democrats in Congress such as Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal to conclude, “The economic consensus is that infrastructure pays for itself over time.”

But the Biden administration is taking a more cautious approach than some Democrats might like. After $1.9 trillion in pandemic aid and $4 trillion in relief last year, the administration is trying to avoid raising the national debt to levels that would trigger higher interest rates and make it harder to repay.

Biden’s efforts may also be complicated by demands from a handful of Democratic lawmakers who say they cannot support the bill unless it addresses the $10,000 cap on individuals' state and local tax deductions put in place under Trump and a Republican-led Congress.

With a narrow majority in the House, those Democrats could conceivably quash any bill that doesn’t significantly lift the cap or repeal it entirely.

Dems aim for July vote as Congress digs in on infrastructure


WASHINGTON (AP) — Even before President Joe Biden unveiled his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan Wednesday, congressional committees were laying the groundwork for a major public works investment with the goal of passage over the summer.

They've held hearings to listen to experts in the field and top-ranking administration officials. They've introduced scores of bills. They've asked lawmakers from both parties to submit their ideas for specific projects soon as Thursday.

And now the hard part begins, cobbling together an ambitious final product that can pass such an closely divided House and Senate.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cited July 4 as the date she would like to have an infrastructure bill approved, but that deadline could slip to later in the month, she told Democratic lawmakers in a conference call earlier this week, a senior Democratic aide said Wednesday.

It’s likely that individual committees would advance their pieces of legislation and then a comprehensive bill would be assembled from that work, though the process for passing Biden’s plan hasn’t been settled. The aide was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and discussed it on condition of anonymity.

Various components of the sweeping plan will likely prove popular. Biden wants $25 billion put into improving the nation’s airports, $115 billion for bridges and roads in the most critical need of repair and $17 billion for ports and waterways, for example.

The Democratic chairmen of the committees overseeing potential roads, bridges and transit investments are aiming to pass a highway reauthorization bill — a key element of the infrastructure push — out of committee before Memorial Day.

To sweeten the prospects for bipartisan support, Democrats are offering lawmakers the chance to make their imprint through so-called earmarks, now being called “member designated projects,” which would dedicate some of the infrastructure spending to specific projects in their home districts and states.

Lawmakers can begin making their earmark requests starting Thursday with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is working on a roads and transit bill. The policy change — the use of earmarks had been banned in recent years — could enhance efforts to reach agreement on an infrastructure bill, but other factors, such as how to pay for it, will likely play a much bigger role.

Key Republicans and influential business groups are lobbying hard against Biden’s preferred method of paying for infrastructure largely by raising the corporate income tax rate to 28%. It had been at 35% before tax cuts enacted during Donald Trump’s presidency reduced the rate to 21%. Republicans don’t see the proposed increase as a middle ground.

“It’s called infrastructure. But inside the Trojan horse there’s going to be more borrowed money. And massive tax increases on all the productive parts of our economy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday in his home state of Kentucky.

McConnell was peppered with questions about potential money, particularly for bridge repairs, but said he does not see this as a moment of bipartisanship in Washington.

Still, Democratic lawmakers and the White House are holding out the prospect for generating some bipartisan support even if that looks increasingly unlikely. Biden’s first major bill, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, got no Republican support.

“The American Rescue Plan was a little bit different, because it was an emergency. It was addressing an emergency that we’re still fighting our way through, right, getting the pandemic under control, putting people back to work,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on MSNBC. “This is a big jobs bill, but we have a little bit more time to negotiate, to have discussions, to hear if people have better ideas on either the proposals or how to pay for it.”

Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the House transportation panel, said that he hopes Congress will develop infrastructure legislation in the coming weeks that can gain bipartisan support but that the Biden plan is unlikely to do so.

“The president’s blueprint is a multitrillion-dollar partisan shopping list of progressive priorities, all broadly categorized as ‘infrastructure’ and paid for with massive, job-killing tax increases,” Graves said.

If Democrats are unable to get Republican support for the bill, then Democratic leaders are likely to turn to the same budgetary procedure used to get the COVID-19 relief bill passed with a simple majority in the Senate.

Administration officials sidestepped a question about whether Democrats would go that route, saying that Biden wanted to be clear that he's got a plan and he's open to hearing what others think, before adding that he is uncompromising about “the urgency of the moment."

Joe Wojtas 

Stonington — The proposed Mystic River Boathouse Park project, which has made little progress since residents approved a $2.2 million bond to buy and develop the Route 27 site in 2016, has now taken two major steps forward.

On Wednesday, the Board of Selectmen voted to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Stonington Community Rowing Center that delineates the obligations of both parties in the development and operation of the public park. The agreement is expected to help the rowing center raise funds as it formalizes its ability to use and develop the town-owned site, as well as the town's responsibilities to create the park. 

Meanwhile, First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough said this week that the town plans to submit an application for a state grant of just under $1 million to fund the environmental cleanup of the site located just north of Mystic Seaport Museum's Latitude 41 restaurant.

"These are big steps," Chesebrough said, adding the agreement will help bolster the town's grant application.

The project has been beset by delays due to having to clean up underground contamination, the need to preserve a historical home on the site and the impact that would have on the park design, and controversy over the initial design of the boathouse, which would serve as the home for the Stonington High School rowing team and the community rowing center. The boathouse design is being redone to incorporate the historic house.

Chesebrough said this winter that the town has $534,719 left from the $2.2 million bond to spend on the project. In addition, the town has about $50,000 left from a $200,000 state grant to conduct an environmental assessment of the property and obtain permits.

Mike O'Neill, the director of rowing for the Friends of Stonington Crew, called the agreement a "huge step forward" for the project.

The Friends of Stonington Crew has created the Stonington Community Rowing Foundation, which is awaiting approval for its nonprofit status, to manage the boathouse operation. The friends group then will focus on supporting the Stonington High School crew team.

The memorandum of understanding states that "Investing in this property to create a flourishing public park will be a community asset for generations to come" and through the town partnering with the rowing center, "community members of all ages and abilities will have an opportunity to utilize competitive, recreational, and adaptive rowing programs."

It states that use of the park grounds, boat ramp and public dock will be free to the public. There will be a fee for the rowing center programs to ensure their sustainability. The fee will give program participants access to the boathouse, rowing shells and equipment, rowing docks, training equipment and coaching.

The agreement states it will be used to draft a proposed lease agreement for the rowing center, which will be voted on at a future Town Meeting. A separate agreement will detail items such as construction management and insurance.

According to the agreement, the town will be responsible for completing actions required by the State Historic Preservation Office such as surveying and relocating the house on the site, remediating the contamination and completing the site work for the park.

The town also will complete the engineering, permitting and construction of the public boat ramp and dock and allow the rowing center to lease the boathouse for small gatherings and activities, including team banquets and fundraisers, in order to help pay for its programs.

The town will maintain the park property, exterior of boathouse and house, including restrooms, and provide the rowing center with the use of the park and access to the Mystic River during practices, races and other events.

The agreement states the rowing center's responsibilities are based on its ability to raise money and generate revenue from the operations of the boathouse complex for fitness, education and group activities.

The rowing center is responsible for working with the town to finalize the design of the boathouse and house, provide architectural construction drawings for the house and boathouse complex to gain town and state approval, manage the construction of the boathouse, renovate the exterior of the house to State Historic Preservation Office requirements in conformity with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and local zoning restrictions.

The rowing center also will design, permit and build the rowing dock, pay for the utilities for both buildings and bathrooms, manage activities at the park, boathouse and house complex and provide fee-based rowing programs for fitness and recreation to the community. It also will maintain a shared schedule of programs and events with the town to maximize the park’s use for the community and obtain a permit to close the park during major events and regattas.

HB Nitkin pitches retail, apts. in Glastonbury Main Street overhaul

Matt Pilon

prominent Greenwich-based developer that built Hartford’s Front Street entertainment district and apartments is looking to invest east of the river in Glastonbury.

Representatives of H.B. Nitkin on Tuesday unveiled a plan to demolish, rebuild and reconfigure three adjacent retail properties on Main Street, resulting in approximately 29,000 square feet of new commercial space with a mix of 157 studio, one and two-bedroom apartments.

The addresses of the three properties are 2283-2289, 2341-2355 and 2327-2333 Main St. The latter is an existing retail plaza and the largest of the three. The conceptual plan presented this week calls for moving the replacement building for that address up toward Main Street so that it better aligns with the two smaller buildings on either side of it.

“Moving the 2327-33 Main Street building up to Main Street would create a consistent street wall along Main,” the developer’s presentation said. “This would enhance the character of the intersection of Main Street and Hebron Avenue, a key gateway to the Town Center.”

H.B. Nitkin and its partners acquired the three properties over the past two years, spending approximately $4.6 million, according to property records.

The presentation this week was known as a pre-application review. The developer hasn’t yet submitted a formal proposal to the town.

The potential price tag for the project was not immediately available. H.B. Nitkin did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.

The development would expand the firm's presence in Greater Hartford, where it also owns the Cromwell Square retail plaza. 

Berlin medical device manufacturer TOMZ Corp. plans 57K sq. ft. expansion

Sean Teehan 

Berlin's Planning and Zoning Commission has approved medical-implant manufacturer TOMZ Corp.'s plans to expand its headquarters by about 57,000 square feet.

The expansion of TOMZ's facility on 47 Episcopal Road would be done in two phases, with phase one adding more than 38,000 square feet, and phase two building almost 19,000 square feet onto its headquarters, town records show.

The town’s planning and zoning commission in 2018 approved a 12,000-square-foot addition to TOMZ’s headquarters, which hasn't been completed. The new approval adds to the phase one buildout, which now will include an expansion of the mezzanine area and additional manufacturing space. Phase two would build out manufacturing space toward Deming Road, and would place solar panels on the roof, town records show.

A construction timeline and cost wasn’t immediately available. TOMZ Corp. didn’t not respond to requests for comment. 

Environment Committee Moves Forward With Multistate Carbon Compact

Hugh McQuaid

A multi-state agreement designed to reduce carbon emissions and raise gas prices to fund a more environmentally-friendly transportation system cleared a key committee Wednesday.

The legislature’s Environment Committee approved a bill to have Connecticut join the Transportation Climate Initiative. The pact, which includes Massachusetts and Rhode Island, requires fuel suppliers to buy permits for carbon emissions. It is aimed at cutting pollution and raising revenue, some of which must be spent on a cleaner transportation system.

Gov. Ned Lamont signed onto the agreement in December and has lobbied hard for its passage through the legislature. But Republicans have opposed the initiative and protested the resulting impact on the price of fuel. The agreement imposes a new expense on fuel suppliers who are expected to pass the increased costs on to consumers. They have characterized the proposal as a gas tax.

During an hour-long debate Wednesday, Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, said the proposal was difficult because it asked residents to weigh a cost they could easily quantify at the gas pump against more abstract costs like climate change and the degradation of air quality in communities across the state. 

“We are already paying those [costs]. For me, that’s the math,” Horn said. “It is our job, particularly on this committee but as legislators generally to take into account those diffuse costs that are being born by particularly vulnerable residents of our state and of our communities and to do that math.”

Sen. Christine Cohen, the panel’s co-chairwoman, said the bill included a provision aimed at controlling the increased costs consumers will see at the pumps. Gas prices could not be hiked by more than 9 cents per gallon in the first year, scheduled for 2023. But the agreement is designed to scale up over the next 10 years.

Rep. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, said the impact on gas prices could be as high as 26 cents per gallon by the end of the decade. 

“I just don’t see how we could possibly be implementing this sort of gas tax on our constituents at this time. I understand it’s implemented in 2023, but it’s an extremely regressive tax. You have to pay for gas to get back and forth to work,” Harding said. 

The Lamont administration has argued the increase will be around 5 cents initially. The proposal is expected to generate around $90 million in its first year. But the governor has more often focused on its ability to help the state leverage federal investment in Connecticut’s aging transportation infrastructure. 

At one of several events his office has organized to promote the initiative in recent weeks, Lamont referred to the proposal as a “20% copay” on federal funding. 

“This is not an opportunity we want to miss,” Lamont said earlier this month. 

During the committee meeting, Republicans raised doubts about whether the bill’s language would adequately prevent its revenue from being diverted by the legislature to fund other programs. Some objected to its goal of encouraging residents to transition from internal combustion vehicles to more expensive electric models.

“What’s next? Are we going to legislate people and tax them to not eat red meat?” Rep. Patrick Callahan, R-New Fairfield, said. 

Proponents argued that the state had a unique opportunity to help keep pollution levels down. Sen. Will Haskell, D-Wilton, said one of the few silver linings of the pandemic had been seeing carbon emissions drop to historic lows as many former commuters worked from home.

 “I think it would be a real shame if we decided to just return to the old normal. Let’s not put kids back on those diesel buses that pump exhaust into their lungs. Let’s not just accept as a fact that urban communities are going to see higher asthma rates,” Haskell said. 

The committee approved the bill on a 21 to 11, party-line vote Wednesday, sending the agreement to the state Senate for consideration.