For many in the construction industry, the advent of a new administration in Washington, D.C., has raised new hopes and presented new questions, especially during an economic downturn and lingering pandemic. What sort of legislation will the Biden administration introduce and promote that could impact building codes and standards? Will energy efficiency take precedence over all other considerations of building design? Will Congress and the White House continue their enduring stalemate that stalls any change in the built environment? And—perhaps most importantly—what funding will be available to building owners and contractors as they emerge from one of the toughest times this generation of businesses has experienced? Even as the Biden administration begins to make its mark on the ways of Washington, there are still more questions than answers surrounding these issues.
A coalition of roofing industry organizations banded together during the early stages of the pandemic to protect their members’ employees and ensure these businesses remained operating. After achieving this goal, the coalition now is supporting a federal tax credit that would stimulate construction—residential and commercial. A close look at this potential tax credit may help illuminate what could be down the federal road as far as legislation to support the construction and design industry.
First, some background on how the roofing coalition came to fruition:
The Start of Something Big
Last spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the health of workers and shutdowns devastated the economy, a group of roofing construction association leaders based in Washington, D.C., joined forces, committed to working together to help keep their employees safe and keep companies in business. (View the list of organizations on page 2.) Their approach was unique: This was the first time the participants could remember forming a coalition to tackle challenges of the scope they mutually faced. As Jared Blum, Washington counsel of the EPDM Roofing Association remarked, “There was a realization that all the different segments of the roofing industry have a lot more in common than differences.”
The work of this COVID-19 task force, as it came to be informally called, was laser- focused on specific issues that threatened to negatively impact their member industries.
As the pandemic increased in ferocity, several states, including New York and Washington, listed construction as “nonessential” activity, meaning all work on existing sites had to stop and no new construction could be initiated. The task force worked with the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency to ensure the construction industry had adopted risk-management tactics to guarantee essential status. With that in place, the COVID-19 task force contacted governors in key states, as well as other regional and local officials, to ensure the essential guidance was mandated nationwide, meaning construction activities could continue unabated.
Additionally, the COVID-19 task force launched a campaign targeted at easing the skyrocketing national unemployment rate and, at the same time, helping to rem- edy the industry’s labor shortage. The campaign, called “Back to Work on America’s Roofs” pointed out the roofing industry employs more than 1 million American workers and the “industry has developed guidelines that will safeguard buildings while also mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19 among our workforce”.
With these efforts underway, in early July 2020, the coalition was presented with another opportunity to help the industry, this time by shaping tax policy. The proposal, from a coalition of home improvement, roofing manufacturing and construction industries, detailed a 30 percent refund- able tax credit for home improvements and qualifying business property improvements. The proposed tax cut was designed to “help stimulate the economy and get Americans back to work by investing in homes and businesses across the country.” After discussion of the proposal, individual members of the COVID-19 coalition agreed to sign letters to key members of Congress and the administration in support of the tax cut.
Where the Tax Credit Stands Today
Fast forward to January 2021 and the 30 percent tax credit is being considered in a markedly different environment from even six months ago. The federal deficit, absorbing the more than $3 trillion spent in 2020, now stands at $27 trillion. Duane Musser, vice president of Government Relations at the National Roofing Contractors Association, points out this is a record-setting statistic: “Even before COVID, we were entering deficit-spending territory we have not seen since World War II. That is the only time in our nation’s history that the government debt program was worse than it is now.”
Whether the specific 30 percent refundable tax credit will survive is open to debate. Given a Republican-controlled Senate, there will most likely not be much enthusiasm on Capitol Hill to increase federal spending, and any proposal to add to the federal debt will be scrutinized by the red side of the aisle. Although the tax credit would most likely stimulate more business, a refundable tax credit would be shown as an immediate loss to the Treasury without factoring in any future gains. This structure will make it an even tougher sell to a spending-wary Congress.
There is one point of agreement on Capitol Hill that is potentially good news for construction: Both parties would like to see passage of an infrastructure bill. President Biden included a $1.3 trillion large-scale infrastructure package in his transition planning; this would include what is viewed as “traditional” infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, transit facilities, as well as airports, schools and other public buildings. Some of this would be new construction, some targeted for retrofitting.
However, Biden’s plan includes key parts of his clean-energy agenda, and that is where agreement in Congress ends. Republicans and Democrats may all see the need for an infrastructure bill, but there is no foreseeable consensus on what should be included and how to pay for it. House Democrats have already passed the Moving Forward Act—with a $1.5 trillion price tag—in a vote last July that was strictly along partisan lines. This legislation had been discussed with the Biden campaign and has been seen as a starting point for negotiations on an infrastructure package. Although President Biden was renowned for his coalition-building skills when he was a senator from Delaware and as vice president, it is hard to imagine any “Green New Deal” elements will pass Mitch McConnell’s Senate.
Therefore, what looked possible for a 30 percent refundable tax credit in July, now looks doubtful in January as the demands on spending increase and the available funding grows increasingly scarce. This is not because the members of the COVID-19 task force are short-sighted or unfamiliar with the ways of Capitol Hill. 2020 was so unpredictable and extraordinary that seasoned Congressional savants have been taken aback by election results and skyrocketing budget deficits. If the 30 percent reimbursable tax credit survives, it will almost surely be contingent on reaching some kind of energy-efficiency goal or threshold to ensure Democratic passage. In that case, it could mean other energy-efficiency tax credits will be included in the bill, creating a sort of universal tax incentive.
Ultimately, if the gridlock on Capitol Hill continues, it may be the private sector that leads infrastructure investment. Justin Koscher, president of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association and convener of the COVID-19 task force, sees “a change in corporate America to be more responsive to public concerns from social issues all the way to climate issues. Regardless of what the federal government does, you’re going to see a corporate track record much more responsive to their customers’ demands, which translates into significant private-sector investments that would benefit the construction industry.”
The COVID-19 task force will continue to work together for the duration of the pandemic and beyond, marshaling the momentum built from its joint action. For example, the annual Roofing Day will take place online March 23 and 24, and thousands are expected to advocate virtually for workforce development, immigration reform and incorporating a strong build- ings component in infrastructure legislation. More than ever, roofing professionals have discovered that there is strength in numbers. More than ever, they are working together for the good of the industry as a whole.
Members of the COVID-19 Task Force
In spring 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the health of workers and shutdowns devastated the economy, a group of roofing construction association leaders joined forces, committed to working together to help keep their employees safe and keep companies in business. The task force includes the following organizations:
- ASPHALT ROOFING MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION
- CHEMICAL FABRICS AND FILM ASSOCIATION
- EPDM ROOFING ASSOCIATION
- INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF BUILDING ENCLOSURE CONSULTANTS
- METAL CONSTRUCTION ASSOCIATION
- NATIONAL ROOFING CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION
- NATIONAL WOMEN IN ROOFING
- POLYISOCYANURATE INSULATION MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION
- ROOF COATINGS MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION
- SINGLE PLY ROOFING INDUSTRY
- SLATE ROOFING CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION
- SPRAY POLYURETHANE FOAM ALLIANCE
- TILE ROOFING INDUSTRY ALLIANCE
NRCA’s PROCertification Program
Three years ago, Reid Ribble, in one of his first landmark statements as the newly appointed CEO of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), spoke to the EPDM Roofing Association (ERA) and laid out his vision for the roofing industry, focusing on plans to establish a certification program for experienced workers in specific roof system installations. The program he envisioned would be designed to create a career path for industry field workers and “elevate the roofing industry to be on par with other trade professions that currently offer national certifications.”
NRCA offers PROCertification in three roof systems:
- Thermoplastic Systems
- EPDM Systems
- Asphalt Shingles
It also offers a Roofing Foreman PROCertification.
The program is designed to certify experienced installers by testing their knowledge and skills on three levels. There’s an initial eligibility requirement: Every installer who applies has to include verification signed by his or her employer that he or she has at least 24-months system-specific installation experience. In other words, someone applying for EPDM Systems certification needs to have 24 months of not just roofing experience but experience specific to EPDM systems.
Once applicants are accepted for further testing, they take an online test. This is designed to validate that they understand general roofing knowledge, general roofing processes and safety procedures.
The final step requires applicants to perform critical tasks on standard mock-ups designed and supplied by NRCA. These tests can be administered at a variety of locations, such as a manufacturer’s training facility or a contractor’s office. An NRCA-certified assessor must be present to observe the applicant performing the tasks and installation steps of the specific system and scores him or her based on those steps. Successful applicants not only know the steps and understand the process, but can actually get on the roof and do it.
Currently, many applicants to the PROCertification program are individuals who are stepping forward to be tested. However, increasingly contractors are putting their crews through the process. An NRCA spokesperson says the association anticipates “a pretty healthy mix” of contractors putting their employees through the process, as well as individuals pursuing
roofing careers to apply for certification.
David Martiny, the EPDM Roofing Association’s chairman and director of Product Management at Firestone Building Products, points out, “At a time when we are all challenged to deliver excellence in the roofing marketplace, this is an important step forward to deliver certified quality to our customers and provide career prestige for our labor force. PROCertification provides an excellent opportunity for seasoned installers to add to their credentials. And for those who are early in their work as installers but have experienced the ease of EPDM installation, for example, it can provide a jumpstart into a respected and rewarding profession.”