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New GSA Carbon-Based Construction Materials Requirements

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) issued new carbon standards under its facilities standards for the Public Buildings Service (P-100).

On March 30, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) issued new carbon standards under its Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service (P-100) to require the use of lower carbon concrete products and asphalt paving practices for all GSA design and construction contracts that involve at least 10 cubic yards of those materials. The general contractor now must source concrete that meet specific carbon requirements; collect and maintain documentation associated with both materials; and, in the case of asphalt, employ carbon reduction practices such as recycled content or reduced mix temperatures. AGC is analyzing these new requirements and will provide further updates.

These requirements must be included in the scopes of work for all new projects effective March 17, 2022. If the contractor is not able to meet the new requirements, they must request a P-100 waiver for each mix. The standard does not require the contractor to source outside the maximum transport range for the mix design. However, the contractor will need to provide alternative strategies to reduce global warming potential (GWP) for concrete waiver requests. The contractor also will need to include GWP estimates for each approved waiver (applies to concrete and asphalt).

The new carbon standards are available on GSA’s website. The Center for Engineering will provide training on these new standards on April 20 and May 18, 2022.

 

(AGC Reporting on GSA)

Minnesota to Provide Free at-Home COVID Test Kits

Beginning March 29 state residents can have two rapid test kits (four tests total) shipped directly to their homes through an online ordering system.

ST PAUL, Minn. — While COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths have dropped steadily in recent weeks, health officials say testing remains a priority for keeping the virus and its multiple variants from spiking again.

The state of Minnesota wants residents to remain vigilant, and is launching a new online program to provide rapid testing kits at no cost, right to the front door of those who need them.

Beginning Tuesday, March 29, Minnesotans will be able to log on to the state COVID website and order two at-home test kits (a total of four tests) per home through an online ordering system. Gov. Tim Walz says the state has secured 500,000 test kits, adding that the program will be available until all the test kits are ordered and shipped.

Walz says Minnesota will use this program as a model for providing more access to COVID-19 rapid testing in the months ahead, adding if the effort proves successful the state will count on it as part of the response to future case surges.

“Our goal has always been to ensure that when Minnesotans need a test, they can get one quickly and easily,” said Walz in a statement. “Even as case numbers decline, it’s important that Minnesotans test for COVID-19 if they are feeling sick. That’s why we’re continuing to work to make tests easily accessible – now and in the future.”

Rapid at-home antigen tests, like those Minnesotans can begin ordering Tuesday, provide more flexibility to Minnesota families who need to monitor COVID-19 symptoms. The tests can be done at home and results are delivered within minutes, with no lab delivery required.

State and federal health officials warn residents not to get complacent due to falling COVID numbers, and say testing is key to preventing major outbreaks of the virus. They recommend people should use testing if:

  • They have symptoms of the virus.
  • They have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
  • They are returning from international or domestic travel.
  • They attended a high-risk event.
  • They work in a setting that has regular, close contact with many people.

While starting the new program, the department of health will sunset the Vault at-home testing effort on March 31. Minnesotans who have have Vault PCR tests at home will be able to use them until they expire or through December 31, 2022, whichever comes first. The Vault program required mailing a test in for lab processing, which required days to complete.

(KARE 11)

Biden Budget has Manchin Priorities: Tax Rich, Cut Deficit

President Joe Biden speaks about his proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 in the State Dining Room of the White House, Monday, March 28, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s $5.8 trillion budget for next year would trim federal deficits and boost taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Both could appeal to Sen. Joe Manchin amid Democratic hopes of reviving talks with him over the party’s derailed social and environment plan.

The question is whether this time, the pivotal West Virginia Democrat can be wooed to craft a scaled-down version of his party’s roughly $2 trillion, 10-year package. Before Christmas, Manchin sank that plan, which had already passed the House, saying it would fuel inflation and deepen deficits.

Biden and his aides touted his budget, unveiled Monday, as focusing on fiscal responsibility, security at home and overseas and investments in social programs to help families afford housing, child care, health care and other costs.

Another highlight: $2.5 trillion in tax increases over 10 years on the highest-income people and corporations. That included $361 billion from a minimum 20% tax on families worth $100 million or more — the top one-hundredth of 1% of earners — though it drew some criticism from Manchin.

“An unprecedented commitment to building an economy where everyone has a chance to succeed. A plan to pay for those investments that we need as a nation,” Biden described his budget to reporters.

Republicans rejected Biden’s priorities.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the president’s defense proposal would at best “leave our armed forces simply treading water” because of inflation. He said bigger budgets for agencies like the IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency were “bloated liberal nonsense.” And he labeled Biden’s $2.5 trillion, 10-year tax boosts, which the president said would only affect the nation’s highest earners, a “bomb of tax hikes.”

McConnell’s critique was no surprise. Presidents’ budgets are habitually ignored or reworked by Congress and mocked by the opposition party, a moment that lets both sides draw battle lines useful in upcoming elections.

But Biden’s budget can also be viewed as a step toward luring Manchin, probably the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, back to the bargaining table. Manchin on Monday downplayed reports that he’s resumed talks with top Democrats over a new plan.

“No, there’s nothing serious going on there,” he told reporters Monday. But he also said any new package should be completed by early summer because the fall congressional campaigns could make progress later too hard.

While much of Biden’s budget was similar to last year’s, it was also a more centrist repackaging that reshaped some of its emphasis in Manchin’s direction.

Its proposed $795 billion for defense includes an increase for the Pentagon and a plan to help law enforcement hire more officers and improve training. “The answer is not to defund our police departments,” Biden told reporters, a pointed rebuke of a rallying cry embraced by some progressives but disavowed by nearly all Democrats.

Its stream of new revenue helps Biden assert that his plan would reduce deficits by over $1 trillion over the coming decade — a goal that wasn’t emphasized last year. Just over two-thirds of the deficit cuts would come in the plan’s final five years, though, postponing the most painful reductions and suggesting they might never happen.

The new revenue would also be used to lower costs for families, Biden said, as Democrats confront the nation’s bout with inflation that’s become a major political liability.

Reducing budget deficits, battling inflation and raising revenue from the wealthy are also major demands for Manchin.

“He remains seriously concerned about the financial status of our country and believes fighting inflation by restoring fairness to our tax system and paying down our national debt must be our first priority,” his spokesperson, Sam Runyon, said Monday.

Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has repeatedly said he wants any new package to focus on domestic energy independence. He also wants an “all of the above” policy that combats climate change but helps all forms of energy.

Representing a state that relies heavily on coal and energy production, Manchin and his position have gained political clout because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“What Russia has put out has to be replaced,” he said, referring to the U.S. cutoff of that country’s oil imports.

Of the House-approved $2 trillion bill, $555 billion was for tax breaks and other initiatives for encouraging a switch to cleaner energy. At Manchin’s insistence, that bill dropped the original plan’s biggest effort to do that by offering financial rewards or penalties for energy producers.

Manchin has also voiced support for including provisions lowering the costs of prescription drugs. The earlier bill would have done that by strengthening the government’s ability to negotiate the prices it pays for some pharmaceuticals it purchases, which would save the government money.

Nonetheless, the White House kept some details to itself of what it might offer Manchin in talks.

Budget documents said it was including some revenue proposals like prescription drug pricing in a “deficit neutral reserve fund.” It was not providing details “because discussions with Congress continue,” the documents said in a footnote.

Biden’s new proposed minimum tax on the wealthiest Americans likely faces an uphill fight. Manchin has supported higher taxes on the wealthy and big corporations, but he suggested Monday that Biden’s plan presented complications.

“There’s other ways for people to pay their fair share,” he said.

A somewhat similar tax on billionaires last year by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., never made the final package. And last year’s House-passed bill already had around $2 trillion in savings, suggesting new proposals may not be needed.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., opposed her party’s efforts to raise tax rates on individuals and corporations last year and has apparently not changed her view. Spokesperson Hannah Hurley said Monday that Sinema likes proposals that “target tax avoidance and ensure corporations pay taxes, while not increasing costs on small businesses or everyday Americans.”

Democrats will need all their votes in the 50-50 Senate because all Republicans seem certain to oppose whatever they produce. Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the tiebreaking vote.

 

(Associated Press)

The Fed Bets on a ‘Soft Landing,’ but Recession Risk Looms

Central bankers have been clear that they will do what it takes to control inflation. They are betting on a soft landing, but a bumpy one is possible.

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, emphasized this week that the central bank he leads could succeed in its quest to tame rapid inflation without causing unemployment to rise or setting off a recession. But he also acknowledged that such a benign outcome was not certain.

“The historical record provides some grounds for optimism,” Mr. Powell said.

That “some” is worth noting: While there may be hope, there is also reason to worry, given the Fed’s track record when it is in inflation-fighting mode.

The Fed has at times managed to raise interest rates to cool down demand and weaken inflation without meaningfully harming the economy — Mr. Powell highlighted examples in 1965, 1984 and 1994. But those instances came amid much lower inflation, and without the ongoing shocks of a global pandemic and a war in Ukraine.

The part Fed officials avoid saying out loud is that the central bank’s tools work by slowing down the economy, and weakening growth always comes with a risk of overdoing it. And while the Fed ushered in its first rate increase this month, some economists — and at least one Fed official — think it was too slow to start taking its foot off the gas. Some warn that the delay increases the chance it might have to overcorrect.

The Fed has touched off recessions with past rate increases: It happened in the early 1980s, when Paul Volcker raised rates in a campaign to bring down very rapid inflation and sent unemployment rocketing painfully higher in the process.

“There is no guarantee that there will be a recession, but you have high inflation, and if you’re serious about bringing it down quickly, you have to hike a lot,” said Roberto Perli, the head of global policy at Piper Sandler, an investment bank, and a former Fed economist. “The economy doesn’t like that. I think the risk is substantial.”

It is no surprise that it can be difficult to cool down inflation while sustaining an economic expansion. Higher borrowing costs trickle through the economy by slowing the housing market, discouraging big purchases and prompting companies to cut expansion plans and hire fewer workers. That broad pullback weakens the labor market and slows wage growth, helping inflation to moderate. But the chain reaction plays out gradually, and its results can be seen only with a delay, so it is easy to lay on the brakes too hard.

“No one expects that bringing about a soft landing will be straightforward in the current context — very little is straightforward in the current context,” Mr. Powell acknowledged during his remarks this week, adding, “My colleagues and I will do our very best to succeed in this challenging task.”

Six of the eight Fed-rate-increase cycles since the early 1980s have ended in recession, though some of those were caused by external shocks — like the pandemic — and some by asset bubble implosions, including the 2007 housing crisis and the collapse in internet stocks in the early 2000s.

Fed officials are hoping that today’s strong economy will help them avoid a rough landing. They point to the fact that labor markets are booming and consumer demand is solid, so lifting rates and tempering voracious buying might help supply to catch up and chill the economy without giving it freezer burn. Mr. Powell has argued that with so many open jobs per unemployed worker, the Fed might be able to slow down the labor market a bit without pushing the unemployment rate up.

Loretta J. Mester, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said the Fed was not at a point where it had to decide between fighting inflation or pummeling growth.

“Given where the economy is now, and where the risks are, to my mind the major economic challenge is inflation,” Ms. Mester told reporters on a call Wednesday. “I don’t see it as being a trade-off at this point.”

James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said in an interview that he thought the fact that the central bank had credibility as an inflation fighter — and was raising rates to defend that credibility — could allow it to adjust policy in a way that allowed demand to moderate without causing major economic disruptions.

In the 1980s, when Mr. Volcker was the Fed chair, the central bank had to convince the world that it was prepared to wrestle inflation under control after more than a decade of rapid price gains.

“Do whatever it takes — I guess that’s the mantra of the day. I do think inflation is our No. 1 concern,” Mr. Bullard said. “I don’t think, however, that it is a Volcker-like situation.”

Near-term consumer and market inflation expectations have shot higher over the past year as inflation has hit a 40-year high and continued to accelerate, but longer-term price growth expectations have nudged only slightly higher.

If consumers and businesses anticipated rapid price increases year after year, that would be a troubling sign. Such expectations could become self-fulfilling if companies felt comfortable raising prices and consumers accepted those higher costs but asked for bigger paychecks to cover their rising expenses.

But after a year of rapid inflation, it is no guarantee that longer-term inflation expectations will stay in check. Keeping them under control is a big part of why the Fed is getting moving now even as a war in Ukraine stokes uncertainty. The central bank raised rates a quarter point this month and projected a series of interest rate increases to come.

While officials would usually look past a temporary pop in oil prices, like the one the conflict has spurred, concerns about expectations mean they do not have that luxury this time.

“The risk is rising that an extended period of high inflation could push longer-term expectations uncomfortably higher,” Mr. Powell said this week.

Mr. Powell signaled that the Fed might raise interest rates by half a percentage point in May and imminently begin to shrink its balance sheet of bond holdings, policies that would remove help from the U.S. economy much more rapidly than in the last economic expansion.

Some officials, including Mr. Bullard, have urged moving quickly, arguing that monetary policy is still at an emergency setting and out of line with a very strong economy.

But investors think the Fed will need to reverse course after a series of rapid rate increases. Market pricing suggests — and some researchers think — that the Fed will raise rates notably this year and early next, only to reverse some of those moves as the economy slows markedly.

“Our base case has the Fed reversing quickly enough to avoid a full-blown recession,” Krishna Guha, the head of global policy at Evercore ISI, wrote in a recent analysis. “But the probability of pulling this off is not particularly high.”

So why would the Fed put the economy at risk? Neil Shearing, the group chief economist at Capital Economics, wrote that the central bank was following the “stitch in time saves nine” approach to monetary policy.

Raising interest rates now to reduce inflation gives the central bank a shot at stabilizing the economy without having to enact an even more painful policy down the road. If the Fed dallies, and higher inflation becomes a more lasting feature of the economy, it will be even harder to stamp out.

“Delaying rate hikes due to fears about the economic spillovers from the war in Ukraine would risk inflation becoming more entrenched,” Mr. Shearing wrote in a note to clients. “Meaning more policy tightening is ultimately needed to squeeze it out of the system, and making a recession at some point in the future even more likely.”

(NY Times)