LHT.png

 

 

On July 16, 2020 the ACEC Research Institute held the last roundtable in its "Future of Engineering" series.  The event brought together some of the most respected thought leaders in the infrastructure space to discuss the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the future of funding for infrastructure projects

Panelists included:
• Rosemarie Andolino, Former Chairman of MAG USA and CEO of International Development, Manchester Airport Group
• Anirban Basu, Chairman and CEO, Sage Policy Group
• Jeff Davis, Senior Fellow, Eno Center for Transportation
• David Zipper, Visiting Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government
• Moderator: Joseph Bates, ACEC Research Institute

Transcript:

Daphne Bryant:

On behalf of the ACEC Research Institute's, Board of Directors, welcome to our third round table in the series, the future of engineering. A big thank you to our donors who have made this session possible. We have a great group of thought leaders here today. As you can see on your screen, they're going to share their insights and expertise with us on the future of funding in our new normal. Now without further ado, it's my pleasure to introduce two of my colleagues from the ACEC Research Institute, Joe Bates, who will serve as our moderator for today's session, and Kevin McMahon who will be monitoring the chat box and fielding your questions during the session, Joe, it's all yours.

Joe Bates:

Great. Thank you, Daphne, and thank you all for joining us today. First, I'd like to introduce you to our panelists that we have with us first there's Rosemarie Andolino, Former Chairman of MAG USA and CEO of International Development, Manchester Airport Group in the UK, where she oversaw the development of MAG's North American and global airport services business. She currently serves as an independent board member and advisor to various for-profit and not for profit organizations. And previously she served as the Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation, where she oversaw the management and operations of one of the world's busiest airport systems that comprise of O'Hare and Midway International Airports. Rosemarie, welcome today. I'd also like to welcome Anirban Basu. Anirban is Chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group an economic and policy consulting firm. Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland with an office in Indonesia, the firm provides strategic analytical services to energy suppliers, law firms, medical systems, government agencies, and real estate developers among others.

Joe Bates:

In 2014, Maryland governor Larry Hogan appointed Anirban Chair of the Maryland Economic Development Commission. He also serves as the Chairman of the Baltimore County Economic Advisory Committee. Welcome Anirban. Next I'd like to introduce Jeff Davis. Jeff is a senior fellow with the Eno Center for Transportation and is also the editor of the Eno Transportation. Weekly. Jeff has worked on Capitol Hill working on various legislative budget process oversight and parliamentary procedure issues. He also worked extensively on the FAA, Amtrak and surface transportation reauthorization laws in the late 1990s. His current work focuses on analysis of the federal budget, federal transportation budget, and his longterm trends in transportation, funding, and policy. Finally, I'd like to welcome David Zipper. David is a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Taubman Center for State and Local Government, where he examines the interplay between urban policy and new mobility technologies.

Joe Bates:

David's perspectives are rooted in his experience working within city hall, as well as being a venture capitalist policy researcher and startup advocate. He has consulted with numerous startups and public officials about regulatory strategy. So thank you all for joining us today and welcome.

Joe Bates:

I'd like to go ahead and get started and jump right in to get a, sort of a feel of what's going on with the economy. As everybody knows, the US economy, as well as the engineering profession was hit quite hard by the pandemic and the last business impact survey that ACEC conducted showed that over 80% of firms said, they felt that the economy was in worse shape today than it was on March 1st before the pandemic really took hold. So clearly there's a lot of pain going on out there. There's a lot of stimulus efforts that have happened, but Anirban, I'd like to turn to you and ask you to give us an overview of what's happening with the economy right now and where you think it's going in the next five years or so.

Anirban Basu:

Yeah, well look, the recession is dated to have begun in February. According to the national Bureau of economic research is Business Cycle Dating Committee. I think by late April, it was over in late April. That was the nadir for mobility of Americans based on cell phone and other data. You know, Governor Kemp in Georgia started opening up the economy on April 20th. And there was a lot of cash that had been built up in the economy and the household sector because of those $1,200 checks for $600 in federal subsidies for unemployment insurance benefits. So the household savings rate went from 8% pre-crisis to 33% by April. The economy opens up in May guess what? We get job growth, 2.7 million jobs added in may. We followed up in June 4.8 million. That's not consistent with recession. And so it felt pretty good. Didn't it?

Anirban Basu:

Retail sales surging 17.7% in may then again, bouncing back in June felt really good. And then what happens Florida? It's always Florida. For some reason, Florida, Arizona, Texas, Georgia Governor of Oklahoma is now COVID-19 positive. So the surgeon reinfection has put the entire economic recovery in doubt. And we can see that some of these reopenings have been postponed. Some of them have been reversed. We've got the initial jobless claims today at 8:30 AM Eastern Standard Time. And they were somewhat disappointing the market's down today. So I was looking forward to a third and fourth quarter. That was very robust in terms of the economic expansion. It might still happen because people don't seem to care that there is this viral spread. They're just going about their lives. I'm in Ocean City, Maryland today. No one out there on the beach is wearing a mask. I can tell you, and they're not social distancing. They're just going about life. As, as if it's normal, you would know that there was a pandemic. So for right now, the economic outlook is very uncertain. I just think that the economic expansion will continue through the end of the year, but it won't be nearly as dramatic as I had hoped up until about a month ago.

Joe Bates:

How long do you think Anirban that the overhang will stay with us? You know, there's bound to be a vaccine in the early part of next year think pretty much everybody is banking on that right now. So let's say we get a vaccine, you know, things return back to normal in terms of how society functions sometime next year, what's the longer term outlook are we gonna, is this like 2009? Are we going to be sort of suffering for a while? Or do you think it's going to be a lot shorter than that?

Anirban Basu:

Oh no. I think it would be longer than that. And I'll tell you why, you know, after 2009, you know, the economy sort of came back to life, you know, I mean, we pumped a lot of money into the economy. We recapitalize the banks, the federal reserve increases balance sheet from $800 billion. Pre-Crisis the four and a half trillion dollars during and after the crisis. So, you know, the money disappeared as the housing market collapsed. You know, that's what caused, you know, 2008, 2009, we put money back into the system, bam LinkedIn's economic expansion, American history, and very little inflation, booming stock market. It was fabulous. And we entered with that momentum in January and February of 2020. And in February we added more than a quarter million jobs this time. What do we have? We have shattered government finances, state, and local. We have a commercial real estate sector that is in deep recession and will take years to recover, right?

Anirban Basu:

Empty storefront, shuttered restaurants, vacated office suites. And so that weakness lingers, we've got lots of debt on various balance sheets, household balance sheets, corporate balance sheets. And of course, governmental balance sheets and especially the federal government, right, which in June ran nearly a $900 billion deficit for one month, you know, $64 billion dollars. So you put all that together. I think it is possible to talk about a double the procession. And in fact, it is conceivable that we'll have that double dip this year. If, you know, if you agree with my proposition that we were in recession, we came out of recession. We could go in back into recession this year. And then at some point in the future, once this new, next round of stimulus works its way through the economy, you can get another recession thereafter. So there's, you know, a w and then another V on top of that, it's a really risky moment in economic history and the policymakers have to get this right. And those are political outcomes they have to get right. And political outcomes are rarely, right. So, I mean, that's where we are right now, very uncertain place.

Joe Bates:

Great. Okay. Anirban, thank you for that perspective. I'd next like to focus on a question for Jeff as as some of you probably know who, who have looked at the ACEC business impact study that we conducted 90%, nine zero, 90% of firms reported obtaining a PPP loan to bridge the summer and spring trough that many expected. The question here is, will clients start new projects once we get through the summer, or are we gonna continue to struggle through next year? Jeff, what do you think?

Jeff Davis:

In terms of the regular the regular federal infrastructure programs, the federal side of the spending hasn't been affected yet by any of this coronavirus? The, the, the question is always really the degree to which the level of the government that can print its own money. The federal government is going to step in temporarily and assist the levels of government that can't print their own money, state and local. And so you saw a little bit like $150 billion of aid to state and local governance was in the last traunch coronavirus relief the S the house back zone wishlist bill about a month ago, three and a half trillion dollars in one bill that was going to have like $500 billion from state governments. None of that set aside directly for state DOTs, but that's the fundamental question you gotta answer is if you're going to provide a, to state and local governments, does the federal government single out transportation as being privileged and give it a special carve out of money and leave everything else up to state local politicians to determine the priorities, or do they make transportation aid subject to state and local decisions in place that you know, weighing it against the needs for education, budgets of corrections budgets of all the other things that state governments do.

Jeff Davis:

There is zero consensus right now in Congress of whether state DOTs in particular should receive a special targeted round of assistance. That's not subject to state and local governments determining where to best allocate the resource. The Senate Majority Leader McConnell is going to introduce his own coronavirus bill next week. They've got a July 31st deadline for leaving town, at least the house for five weeks, and also unemployment insurance rent. So extended unemployment's going to be in that bill at some rate. We're not sure if the special $600 bonus will be in there or any kind of bonus at what level McConnell wants to put at least $75 billion in dangling a carrot financial aid and school systems that open on time in late August, September. And the only other thing I know about that bill is that he's determined to keep the price tag below $1 trillion.

Speaker 4:

So you're going to have you have a House bill, a three and a half trillion, the Senate trying to max out at 1 trillion, and they're going to have between middle of next week and July 31st to figure out what that goes. So, because it doesn't do any good, the federal government putting out money at 80% federal share for highways, if the state or local DOT can't afford its own 20%, or is uncertain, whether they're going to have the dedicated revenues over the next X number of months to cover their 20%. So that's the basic issue is the uncertainty of government tax receipts at the state and local level is going to start tampering all this.

Joe Bates:

So, so if I can press you on this just a little bit, Jeff, and I'd also like to get David's thoughts on this. You're saying the federal money is there. So are projects going to be effected. And if so, in what way?

Jeff Davis:

Cash going out the door for federal infrastructure programs has not really been affected at all yet by coronavirus, but for the big highway and transit programs, those are reimbursable dollars. The government signs a contract upfront only after the state government pays the contractor do they come to the US Department of Transportation and get reimbursed. So the dollars leaving the door and the treasury is a lagging indicator. Unfortunately, it's the most up to date indicator we have as far as monthly basis. We'll find out next week, hopefully on the obligation to the grant agreements actually signed between the federal government and state local government for infrastructure we'll hopefully have enough later quarterly total on that. And they're about to move to monthly reporting on that. So we can finally get something other than anecdotal evidence, you know, from States, state DOT here, or city transit agency there on how much they're curtailing their future spending plans in light of the coronavirus revenue uncertainty, but at the federal level, we don't quite have the data yet on just the degree to which the federal governments, local and state government infrastructure partners are rolling back activity, looking to the future yet.

David Zipper:

Yeah. And can I follow on, on that? Is that.

Joe Bates:

Yeah, go ahead, David.

David Zipper:

Yeah. And, and just cause I do a lot of work in particular with urban transportation, like the transit agency is I can sort of speak from that perspective and everything that Jeff is saying is, is I think true and the lack of certainty, the lack of clarity at the federal level sort of filters down to transit agencies, being very concerned or cities being very concerned about future cash support, which leads them to make decisions now about future planning. And I can give a few examples of that. You can see that that very simply some of the groups that are hit the hardest by this right now, it would be the transit agencies that live off of their farebox revenue. They're using the farebox revenue from last week to pay their bills from this week.

David Zipper:

So just this week, there's been a big controversy in the Bay area where CalTrans may or may not get the funding. It would need through a special sales tax to be able to continue. And there's it's kind of incredible for his affluent areas, the Bay Area, serious conversation about CalTrans ceasing service. And if that happens that actually, and I want to make this clear since given the audience here, it's not like you can just turn off a transit agency and then turn it back on. You're losing mechanics, you're losing specialized knowledge about the technology and the vehicles that it's very difficult to emulate. And you look over New York with the MTA saying that they're going to have money to get through August. And they're the, the, the director was saying yesterday that she's being forced to go through the whole org chart, to lay people off and then sort of compounding these problems.

David Zipper :

You've got, especially in New York, for those who may be there, you've got the Trump administration are sitting on decongestion pricing, which would have otherwise provided a $15 billion cash infusion into MTA at a time that really needs it. So, there's plenty more examples I could cite, but I would simply say, you know, this is a time when in the urban transportation side, which I would imagine is of interest to many in the audience. You're seeing a lot of leaders being forced to assume the worst, because there's just no clarity from the federal government about whether there'd be a secondary infusion like there was with the cares act, which is forcing them to hunker down and, and make some really difficult decisions.

Jeff Davis:

And at the state level, most States operate under constitutions or laws prohibiting them from running a deficit. So the deficits are cash in cash out. So they've got to arrange their, their future spending commitments based on anticipate the latest anticipated future tax revenues. And that's why they have to particularly curtail slow spending capital programs early and upfront to try to make sure that they don't run a deficit six or eight, six or 12 months down the line when the bills are coming due and being paid.

Joe Bates:

Rosemarie, I want to get you in the conversation here is what else how do you see since we're talking about the public sector here in public funding, how is the public funding going to affect the airlines? The airports, obviously the airlines got a little bit of assistance in the last month or so maybe not as much as they wanted, but what's your take on the public funding and how that's gonna affect the airline sector?

Rosemarie Andolino:

Well, I think you've seen two things, right? Not only did the airlines get some money, but airports did as well. Right now I think everybody is in a cost constraining mode, right? No spending, looking at ways to actually conserve money and continue the projects that have been funded or continue moving along. The things that have you know, make sense, but, longterm projects, new terminal developments, where if they haven't already again, been funded are going to be placed in a whole holding pattern right now, due to the fact that we need to see where the world's going. We need to see what type of demand there will be. I think this aligns, however, with large capital projects needing time to plan things out in order to before construction. But what will the future look like? That's going to be the challenge that we face.

Rosemarie Andolino:

And I think that's where we need to focus. Our time and energy right now is looking at what are going to be the needed things that our ports are going to need to put in place. If you think about 9/11 and what occurred after 9/11 TSA, we have all these check-in facilities. Now, you know, you have the meter greeter halls that now have all these security measures in place in places like Chicago's airports, older facilities, most U S airports weren't built to handle that type of impact in our terminal facilities. However, now what you see is going to be another layer of potential demands or needs of policy changes, which we won't even know for a while yet what's going to happen. So I think at the moment, airport directors, airlines are still trying to understand what is going to need to happen for, you know, the issue we're dealing with today, the pandemic we're dealing with today, but what then does the future bring, what do we have to plan for for the next phase of the next? What is?

Rosemarie Andolino:

The one thing I will say about our industry is, you know, the aviation sector has always been an indicator in the economy, right? It kind of leads because of the fact that you have to book your travel in advance. You start seeing where the spending is going. You start seeing what the airlines are putting in place, whether the demand is for the next three months, what's going to be happening in the fall. So this is going to be a time now where we're going to see the booking. So what's going to be booked by carriers and what the demand's going to be. You know, as cities are kind of hunkering down again, putting in more restrictions of travel, what's that next phase going to be, and what are those impacts going to be? And that's just phase one. We're not even into our fall phase two yet of what could happen.

Rosemarie Andolino:

But on the positive note is the aviation industry has always recovered stronger than where it was before. So ideally, you know, we could see these trends, you know, and recovery happened quickly. However, we're still out three to five years in that recovery. And what we'll come back first will be that domestic travel, right? The leisure travel, domestic travel, what's still on hold right now, which is kind of the bread and butter of the industry is business travel. And that is a key importance to the success of the entire, not only aviation industry, but hospitality industry as well. We talked about, you know, the entire economy at the opening of restaurants, et cetera, that all feeds from travel aviation and business.

Joe Bates:

So I want to ask a couple of followups here, Rosemarie, you talked about the short term and then the long term. So let's break that down in terms of funding, how are the airports and the airlines going to do the things they need to do in the short term? Where are they going to get the money from for that?

Rosemarie Andolino:

Well, again, I think there's been, there's been some money that has been passed around recently. I think everybody's looking at what's going to be the next phase. Is there going to be another CARES Act two? Or is it going to be the HR 2 and there will be, will there be provisions in that for and again, we'll the neck, there'll be another round of care act funding, right? So those two things are going to be extremely important. I think right now, in terms of where they get the money is again, what they've already issued. So airports are reliant on garbs right? General airport revenue, back bonds that have already perhaps been issued for key projects or AIP money that has come from the federal government and airports have, are they, they are longterm, they plan three, five years out. So projects I've already been planned designed, perhaps they're going through the bidding stage now for construction, you know, depending on what part of the world you're in. So that's work is going to continue. What the question will be is major, you know, terminal redevelopments, right? Major projects. When you have additional capacity right now in the, in, in the market, the question really is, are you going to retrofit your facilities, use that money to retrofit your facilities, to perhaps close down some concourses to consolidate the operations. You know, it's impacted everybody from the cleaning people that are, you know, the cleaning crews and cleaning these large facilities to the operations of concessions. You talked about the airlines, you know, the airports, there's so many jobs and activities that are part of aviation. So many behind the scenes that you don't realize that are, again, especially with key facilities like that are huge. Cargo has continued, you know, the demand for cargo high value cargo.

Rosemarie Andolino:

So a lot of retrofitting for those aircraft have been carrying cargo. Passenger carriers have been carrying cargo now more, even in, not only in the belly of the plane, but they've converted, you know, the passenger seating to carry cargo as well. So, you know, that has been growing and has been stable. But in terms of getting revenue, collecting money from what the normal revenue creations would be like, you know, the Passenger Facility Charge the concessionaires, all of that has basically come to a halt. It's just trickling it. And so that's where the focus will be on O&M, right? In terms of the maintenance of your facilities, I think to take advantage. Well, when I was at O'Hare, we were in a decline. It was the recession when we were building the $8 billion expansion program. And Kevin will remember this many airports were actually closing down their programs because of what was ahead.

Rosemarie Andolino:

We were actually moving forward because of the down in traffic, gave us the ability to actually build those runways, the infrastructure that normally has to be, you know, that's normally impacted with high volumes of operations, give you a little bit more flexibility in that construction of those major impacting projects. So for airports like Utah, who have said, we're going to continue to go forward, you know, they're continuing to build their facilities to get it done, save money on delivering it faster, right. And build, you know, it's, it's in that stage of what it needs to be complete. But for most airports, it's really going to be functional improvements that they're going to be needing to make with the money they have. And you, you know, reprioritizing, perhaps fundings of projects already out to actually move that money to do functional improvements for current environment.

Joe Bates:

Okay. So it sounds like, you know, things there for the moment in our airport space, the projects are continuing, but the question is a bit more longterm than this....

Rosemarie Andolino:

Major projects, yeah. Major change projects, I think are just pulling, are going slower. It hasn't completely, unless it's like a hotel development or certain things of that nature, and depending on where the stages and they are on their development. But if they're in the preconstruction, I think they're starting to go a little slower before they put the shovel in the ground in order to manage the future. Right. Because this is a three to five year recovery. It takes usually three to five years to build some major projects.

Joe Bates:

Sure. Anirban what are your thoughts about the airline industry and in particular, as you look at the sort of the macro economic movements here?

Anirban Basu:

Oh, I think there'll be a rapid bounce back. You know, you said it earlier, we're going to get a vaccine at some point, right? Come on Pfizer, come on, Maderna, come on, Berry, jeez. You know, Regeneron, Gilliad, somebody, you know, start up your computer, get some test tubes out and do this because that's, what's going to solve this problem. That's the only thing that can do it. It's not going to be a cause of our good behavior and our mask wearing. We don't seem capable of that. And so you can see the pent up demand out there. You can see that people want to travel right when Disney opens up. But I think the best example of this was when the Las Vegas casinos opened up and the long lines to try to get into those places. People want to live like that. They want to go to professional sports games.

Anirban Basu:

They want to do all of those things and allow that requires travel. And so once we get a vaccine and you know, obviously people are talking about how long they'll take to get people actually vaccinated. It's not just discovering the vaccine, but actually operationalizing it. But once that happens, I think you'll see tremendous traffic increases at some point in 2021 itself. I really believe that business travel is going to come back. I love these Zoom meetings. I really like this. This is fun, but there's nothing like that coffee break after a long speech, getting ready for the next speech and shaking the hands with sponsors and others. And so I think that comes back pretty, pretty, pretty quickly. I think, I think it comes back more quickly than most economists would

Rosemarie Andolino:

On antibiotic. I think right now, if I could add, you touched on the fact of the what's happening, right? This is the leisure market, right? These airlines are offering right now, very discounted prices, just kind of fairs for travel. A lot of packages out there. You've got your choice, right? Because, but the reality is you can't social distance on a plane, right? You can wear your mask. But there are some challenges associated with that and where the risk is not being taken as in the business community, right. Business companies don't want to take that risk. And again, that's a key driver for the changes in the airline economy is that business traveler.

David Zipper:

I think we all agree. We need a vaccine. I might just connect actually the airport question with issues of a broader ones about transportation projects. I may a glimmer of hope for the airlines. Other not for transit is that for the foreseeable future, people are not comfortable taking transit. Ridership is down around 50% and ride hail trips are way down too. So what that suggests to a lot of people, myself included, is that one source of revenue for airports, meaning parking facilities, make it a bit of a boost, which is something that has not been the way it's going for a while. You disagree with that?

Rosemarie Andolino:

Yeah. Parking facilities have been consolidated again. There's really, there's no demand for parking right now. There's excess, you know, there's plenty of supply in terms of parking close proximity to your terminal if you're departing at the moment. So parking at airports is challenging. I mean, look at the rental car industry as well. You've seen Hertz in bankruptcy. You're going to see consolidation there. Yeah.

David Zipper:

Yeah there's no question of that, I guess for the next year though, I think I would expect, I find to make a bet. I would put more money on people on parking revenue for airports to come back faster than transit ridership.

Jeff Davis:

And over the next month or the next year or so, the data we have indicates that the best infrastructure performing there's going to be are hot lanes because what's going to be slow is to come back to, we get a vaccine is carpooling particularly with this DC, the DC area, and a couple other places had a thing called slug line where complete strangers would line up in certain places in the suburbs could be picked up by other complete strangers and share their air and their car for 15 minutes. So to go downtown, to be able to use the, the, the express lanes, that's going to be the last thing that comes back in all transportation and so hot lanes where you can pay extra money to use the carpool lane.

Jeff Davis:

If you think to getting there is important, or if, if, if the lanes are being congestion managed at all times, like the new I-66 is here what we've seen Transurban reported the lanes they run in China, and there are a bunch of them now actually have more ridership as a month ago than they did before Coronavirus. So at least in the time being, not, not longterm and until we get a vaccine, single occupancy ridership, and the toll lanes that that make revenue directly from people who are willing to pay our may even do better in the interim than were doing before.

Joe Bates:

So now Jeff, that's assuming that we have traffic like we had previously, right? If, if people aren't going into the office, then maybe we're not going to have the same level of congestion. I don't know. What, what do you think about that?

Jeff Davis:

That's true. Okay. We're going to, I anticipate sort of slow quasi reopenings and I forget, how, how, why did this spread out? Some of the places that went to a, to a terminal congestion can kind of congestion pricing anyway, like Interstate 66, Northern Virginia is now told all morning that those, the congestion based set by computer where that you know, the toll varies minute by minute to try to keep traffic at 45 miles an hour, wherever I think it is. So things like that once I unfortunately if we're, if we're like, if a vaccine takes two years there, there, there has to be significantly more reopening than we have in urban cores to get through the two years. You can't have two years of shut down. So to the extent that there's going to be some kind of reopening vaccine or not single occupancy cars or cars occupied by immediate family members only are going to be where it's at in that short term. And then it's a question of once we do get a vaccine of digging out of those habits and trying to get back to the changes in, in using different modes that we were trying to get to before the coronavirus.

Joe Bates:

Okay. So I want to go back and talk just a little bit more about the public sector. And before we turn to the private sector, in terms of projects and Anirban, I want to direct this one to you, how are the States and localities going to make up for the revenue shortfalls they're seeing, you know, the, the tax revenues are way down, people aren't spending as much. How are they, how are they gonna survive and continue to fund their portion of these public projects?

Anirban Basu:

I mean, there's only one way isn't that, right? They have to have a system called the federal government. I mean, that's, it mean it had been pointed out by Jeff. I believe state local governments have to balance a budget every year, but the federal government doesn't and the federal government right now is looking at a 10 year Treasury yield of 0.615%. There's actually a really good time for the federal government to borrow. I know the national debt is 26 and a half trillion dollars. I get that at some point, we have to start paying some of that back. I understand that, but we're in the midst of a pandemic crisis and state local governments have already laid off 1.5 million workers in recent months. If that continues, then that will really stifle the economic recovery we all want for this country. And so that's, that's it.

Anirban Basu:

I mean, how else are you going to make a billions of billions of dollars of lost revenue? If you try to increase taxes, if you're in New York or Connecticut or New Jersey, guess what happens? People move to Florida, you know, so there's a limit to what you can do in terms of revenue enhancement. Now you can, you know, told more roads and so on and so forth. There's some of that, there's no, there's less elasticity there. So customers have to use those roads to get to wherever they're going. And so maybe that makes sense, but otherwise it's really the federal government. And that I think you're going to see this month is some kind of stimulus package with monies for state and local governments. That's going to help a lot on the capital side and on the operating side.

Joe Bates:

Okay. David, anything else to add on that subject?

David Zipper:

Yeah, I mean, in the absence of federal funding, I, the only other options I see are, would be new tax revenue at the local level. And Audubon's right, that there's a cap to what you can do there. And as we saw in San Francisco earlier this week, even there, in a particularly affluent city, they didn't want to do a very small sales tax raise to fund Caltrain. So what you end up with are, I'm just not just talking about transit. You know, recently he was looking to push out the purchase of a bunch of electric buses for a couple of years, and there was a $15 billion program up in Boston to convert commuter rail, to be a regional rail with 15 minute headways and being all electric. That's now a little bit on ice so that they won't say that explicitly.

David Zipper:

I mean, this stuff is just going to get postponed unless there's an infusion of federal dollars. Cause I tend to agree with Anirban that there, there might be bits and pieces of additional revenue. You could get it at the state and local level through tax raises, but it's not, it's not anything close to enough.

Joe Bates:

Okay. I want to take a second to remind the audience that we do have the Q and A chat for, for questions and also the chat box. At the moment we don't have any questions or, Oh, Kevin. Okay, go ahead, Kevin.

Kevin McMahon:

We just got one. The question is the panel is painted a very good picture of demands in aviation and transit, particularly being in down short term major infrastructure clients, or feeling the uncertainty of commitment from the federal government on funding. What would you advise most of our listeners who are running engineering firms in terms of, of their employee base, should they be looking to you know, really be frugal in terms of hiring plans over the next year? Or do you see any type of demands that would encourage folks to go out and hire additional people.

Joe Bates:

Who wants to take that one?

Anirban Basu:

No, I was going to say, you know, like I've been saying it to, you know, whether you're an engineering firm, CEO or whatever company that happens to be, what are we in right now? We're in cash preservation mode, that's it? You know, we're trying to hold on to liquidity. I mean, that's it, we're trying to make payroll now. You know, the other part of this is there will be an economic recovery. There was after 2008, 2009, there will be this time around. And so who do you want to be with you as that recovery begins? You want the best and the brightest engineers and your stars, your stars, your star engineers, whoever you really need to be part of the team. And so the, you know, you go down, you know, person, you know, person by person on your team and ask the question, do I need this person? And it's an unfortunate situation. We don't want to throw people out of work. That's not what this is about, but at the end of the day, if your enterprise doesn't survive, you're no good to anybody including yourself. And so I think that's the mode we're in right now. There's just too much uncertainty to be in any other mode,

Jeff Davis:

The goal of the federal aid right now is, and should be trying to hold things level to try to keep the amount of total amount of federal state, and local money going for infrastructure type projects to be the same as it was going to be had coronavirus not happen. And then you've got a separate question of the great, the great infrastructure backlog, but I think that's going to have to go on the, on the back burner shortly in terms of just trying to maintain temporary directed aid, whether it's to revenue replacement to state governments or whatever, trying to tread water until coronavirus is over it. And then next year try to do some kind of broader infrastructure boost above the current spending levels that we're, that state local governments are now struggling to maintain. So it was a bad, it turned that it was a bad time to bring up infrastructure bills this year because of the focus is much more on preserving the funding that we've already got going at the state local level versus trying to build significant new dollar amounts of new capacity above that, which I think is going to have to wait till next year.

Joe Bates:

Rosemary were you wanting to add something to that?

Rosemarie Andolino:

I was going to add onto what Anirban said was the fact that, you know, do you have the right people is really the question, because I think again, as airports look to look to the future, airlines are looking to what is going to be necessary to make their customers feel safe and to continue to facilitate travel. What are the things that that, that are going to be needed at airports? And I think we need to look to engineers and others to help us understand what types of technologies, right, whether it's cleaning and sanitation, if it's technology for contactless opportunities to service customers better, and it contactless sweat, what are the types of things that need to be brought into place again, to create functional enhancements of the facility today for better service that customers can rely on and feel, you know, again, give them the comfort and safety for their travel journey.

Rosemarie Andolino:

So I think, and for the future. So I think that is a key important component. I think also part of what's been discussed in Congress as well. And Jeff, you could probably add more to this, but the Congress is looking at, if we are going to make investments, we want those investments then to put our infrastructure in a better place, right. To make it better than it was. Many airports are older facilities and are retrofitted. How do you take those facilities that you have today and whatever investments you make make it so that they're better for the future sustainable green, you know, less energy in terms of technology. Those, I think are some of the things that can be worked on now. And again, you know, do you have to UV light, you know, baggage as it's going through baggage systems, you know, what is going to be the future? And I think getting the bright, you know, engineering groups that are out there, the people, the right talent to help think these things through and come up with solutions and ideas are going to be extremely important again, how do you minimize costs and investment, but come up with great solution,

Joe Bates:

Kevin, it looks like we've got some more questions in there.

Kevin McMahon:

Thank you, Joe. There's, there's a couple of questions. One I'll ask the panel right now is, conventionally, infrastructure has been seen as a, as a great type of stimulus funding mechanism to get people back to work. It seems like nowadays more of the stimulus is funding. Those aren't just giving laid off employees cash versus creating jobs. Ins't this the perfect environment to create an infrastructure bill that would think big and get people back to work. Why is that not as robust in the discussion as some of our panelists, some of our listeners think it should be?

Joe Bates:

Jeff, do you want to start us off on that one?

Jeff Davis:

Yeah. well, first of all, your aid needs to be targeted and what your problem is. And immediately, you know, as of June 30th, the number of people employed in heavy and civil engineering construction seasonally adjusted was down 8% from February.

Speaker 4:

...Seasonally adjusted is pivotally important in outdoor activities like construction, but that 8% is 85,000 jobs. I'm not sure that that should be the prime focus of federal recovery when you've got 5 million people out of work just in the hospitality and restaurant sectors alone, but not to mention, you know, the million or so state, federal, state, local government employees you know, 400,000 people in transportation. You know, the infrastructure everyday of automation of complication means that infrastructure spending as a way of just providing jobs as stimulus is a little less effective than it was back in the good old days. So even though, you know, we definitely, as a country need to be spending more money on infrastructure, focusing on infrastructure as a job creator is probably not the right answer when all of the jobs, the majority of job losses are not from people who were probably going to want to retrain to go work in construction.

Rosemarie Andolino:

You know what though, Jeff, I think on top of that though, is the benefit of with low traffic, right? With low utilization of our infrastructure today because people are staying at home still to get minimized impacts, right? Greenhouse gas impacts, minimize congestion impacts all of the things that also come when you actually do more with a, you know, kind of a respite here where there aren't as many constraints on your current infrastructure, can you, it's easier to close down lanes and to, you know, to build more. The challenges we have, let's say the Myrtle Beach corridor. I know the Congressmen there had been struggling many, many years because it's a definite destination for the drive market. And, but the roads there are built for the local traffic not to handle the ingress and egress of the swells of people that come and drive into the marketplace.

Rosemarie Andolino:

So it causes major conduct congestion for those living there and for the, you know, the community at large, to make those investments today, while traffic is low, it will be a win win for again, when that traffic, when that curve starts, you know, that that color starts rocketing up again, to be able to accommodate them efficiently and to grow the market. Because with the delays that the experiencing last year, you know, they're going to start to lose, they would have lost start losing traffic. So if we could fix a tent to the problem today, so that it will, we're prepared for that future growth again would be ideal. And if it creates jobs and feeds families that's right.

David Zipper:

Yeah. Yeah. There's a variety of transit agencies are doing exact same thing of trying to do the capital investments on an expedited timeline now to take advantage of the fact that few people are riding, same thing goes, a few people are using a bridge, easier time to do repairs. It's less disruptive and that will provide some efficiency gains. The problem though, is that you know, capital budgets are different from operating budgets, certainly for transit agencies and for everybody else. And and it's the farebox revenue that's gone down 50% plus in many places it's coming back very slowly and there simply isn't enough money to keep the operating operator, to have the lights on effectively. That's where I worry. Although I think all the points Jeff made about recognizing that transportation is part of a much larger economy, which is where other parts have been hit even harder is a worthwhile thing to keep in mind so that we can maintain perspective.

Joe Bates:

Kevin, do you want to ask any other questions before we move on to the private sector?

Kevin McMahon:

Yeah. I'll just ask one question, Joe. And it relates to really, there's a few questions I'll try to collapse into one. Is there any chance that Congress will do anything before the election and you know, like suspend NEPA from, for the next six months or anything like that, or are we sort of in a really holding the Fenn vote until this whole election plays out?

Jeff Davis:

I don't think legally they can suspend NEPA the, with anything they did calling them the emergency would be, would be instantly drawn out in court. But the Trump Administration just yesterday released the final regulation on reforming all of the NEPA on amending all the NEPA regulations comprehensively. The first time since they were issued in 1978 and putting hard two year time limits on a lot of these process. So, like I said, the regulation was released yesterday. It should be officially printed in the Federal Register in the next couple of days and take effect 60 days after that, I'm sure the environmentalist are gonna Sue, but that was the combination of, of the entire Trump Administration NEPA regulatory agenda for last four years as it came about yesterday. So I'm not sure how much they're going to be able to do in in addition to that, between now and the end of the year.

Joe Bates:

All right, let's go ahead and move on to the topic of the private funding private projects, you know, this is sort of a whole other animal here what's going to happen with you know, apartment building, home, building a high rise construction. Are we going to see a credit crunch? And, you know, I saw a piece of information this morning. It said home builder sentiment is back to pre coronavirus levels, which really surprised me. So, David, what do you think is going to happen here in the private sector?

David Zipper:

I, well, people still need places to live. I'm not sure how much they're going to need places to, to work in the same way as we did before. So you know, I think I would look for resurgence coming from the residential side faster than I would expect to see it on the, the office development side, particularly in the dense cities like we're where I'm based in Washington, DC, where I've already heard murmurings about possible conversions from corporate into into residential. I think that's going to take some time to play out, but I would have every expectation that residential would come back before commercial. And then there is the next question of where is it going to be in a central city? Is it going to be in the suburban, is it going to be, is this the big moment for some of the like second tier cities like Denver and Boise and salt Lake city to suddenly suck some of the talent away from the big, expensive coastal megalopolises? I tend to be a little skeptical of that for a variety of reasons. But I will note just to say that there is something happening that the rents in San Francisco year over year are down over 12%, which is higher than any other market.

David Zipper :

So that does suggest at least that by the way, San Francisco has the highest rent in the whole country. So it does suggest there is some movement now, at least temporarily of people who can move and go live with family, or just relocate for a while that they are I think, and this is, I think it's a bit of a shaky time for, for a market like the Bay area. But you know, I always, my attitude is always, it's, it's easy to overestimate the duration and extent of a change when you're in the middle of it. So I wouldn't quite if I had the chance, I wouldn't sell off all my my buildings in Manhattan just yet, let's put it that way.

New Speaker:

And Anirban, what are we looking at in terms of a credit crunch? Are we, do we have anything to worry about there is the Fed providing sufficient liquidity in the markets and are the private projects going to have problems getting funded?

Anirban Basu:

Oh, I think the credit crunch has already begun. Third reserve can create as much money supplies at once. It can't force banks to lend, and there's nothing bankers like less than defaults and delinquencies, they hate it and ends careers and it destroys the quarterly financials. So yeah, it's already begun. And, you know, with respect to, you know, some of the comments David was making very good comments. I think this is the decade of the suburbs. The previous decade was the decade of the cities. Millennials turn into their twenties and large numbers, often renting very expensive apartments, driving density, but, and, and this was going to be the decade of the suburbs, even without COVID-19, but COVID-19 makes it even more so, so owner occupied part of the residential market is flying high - homes are flying off the shelves. Condos are selling freely in all markets, even in Connecticut.

Anirban Basu:

But I'd say that multifamily market will be much more challenging going forward. You're going to see a real surge in vacancy rates in multifamily America going forward. And of course, that's going to further perpetuate that credit crunch and then commercial real estate forget about it. It's already in crisis and will be in crisis for many years to come. Because again, of all those empty office suites, abandoned storefronts, shuttered restaurants on and so forth. So the suburbs will fare better than the cities, but commercial real estate generally will be in quite bad shape.

Joe Bates:

Rosemarie. Do you have any thoughts on this topic?

Rosemarie Andolino:

Well, again, living in an urban environment in Chicago, I would agree that you're starting to see, you know somebody joked about people moving to Florida, right? There's the, there's been a huge influx of people relocating. And I think you're seeing that from a lot of major cities. I mean, people whether it was the, you know, the COVID that hit New York and Chicago and other locations and people then relocating to what they thought were communities that were less exposed or had things under control, which has now basically inverted, right? So now those communities are challenged, but you've got distance, you've got, you know, more against, you're not as crunched in together, right? As in an urban environment, you have some more freedom. So to actually, you know, be outside and have space away from people. So I think there there's definitely that exodus happening and you know, with the change of offices and you know, some of the leading technology companies, right, that are out there are saying, don't come back. You know, we don't need you to come back to the office for a, you know, let's revisit it in a year or two years. So if that's where most of the key employment was, and if they can all work from home, you know, will they be buying them a nicer, more expensive home and spending their money there. If they're not moving around the country as much, either in travel.

David Zipper:

If I could, it was an interesting thing that just happened. I think it was today, if not today, yesterday, Airbnb, which I think is a really interesting company in the midst of all this, just announced that they're going to go, they're back to doing an IPO. And what's interesting is they got hammered hard. They had to raise a down round of capital because when the coronavirus hit people did the whole, like one night or two night business just disappeared. But now they've created this whole new market and the CEO, Brian, Brian Chesky talks about this of month to two month rentals, where people are going into a cabin here, there would have you. And it's true that some of the largest employers in the country, some of the tech companies in particular said, we're not going to require people to be back throughout 2020. It opens the door. And then Airbnb has really fast recovery with this creation of a new longterm rental market, which by the way, is driven not by urban locations. Does lead to me to the question. I think anyone who goes beyond asking the question is saying, they know more than they really do of whether some of these, some people are going to decide, you know, what, for the foreseeable future, I really don't need to live in a central city with my family anymore. How that plays out. I don't know, but it's interesting to watch

Rosemarie Andolino:

Well, and if I can add to that, I think what the additional factors is going to be in the next few weeks, it's really going to show its head is if people, if school districts are not going to require kids to actually go to school, then parents can relocate anywhere and spend the next three months, six months, as you said, in different cities or different communities. You know, cause they can learn from anywhere they can work from anywhere and the children can learn from anywhere. So that's, I think is going to be a key factor coming up that hasn't actually shown itself yet.

Speaker 5:

Kevin, do we have any questions on the private sector side of things?

Kevin McMahon:

Yeah, there's there's one, one one quick comment that one of our Connecticut participants, Anirban, really liked your comment about wow, when people are moving to Connecticut, it's shocking. So you got some air airtime on that, but Joe, the question is about some private, some public ports in inland waterways. Is that really just dependent on the economy and freight movement? Or what does the panel think about that space?

Joe Bates:

Who'd like to take that one.

Rosemarie Andolino:

I think the cruise ship cruise industry in terms of passenger cruises is challenged right now. So I think in terms of ports, for the purpose of the hospitality industry, the travel industry, that's a longer term recovery than even aviation. You know, so you're looking more from, you know, four to seven years. It's just, how are they going to deal with those issues?

Jeff Davis:

The the, the big trillion dollar infrastructure bill, the House passed last on July 2nd, didn't really deal with ports and inland waterways and harbors that much because the bill that passed the house was a Democratic only messaging exercise. And they were very close to a bipartisan two year reauthorization bill for those programs that passed committee in the House yesterday, it's past committee in the Senate the month ago. And it's one of the few things that actually make an inaccurate law on its own before the end of the year. And in addition to authorizing a few new, large projects. They're also trying desperately. They found that they finally found a budget gimmick in the House. That'll work to unlock that nine and a half billion dollars. That's been collected over 30 years in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and not spent. So that may get an act of the law this year, finally separate from any other infrastructure package which would really open the flood Gates on a lot of much needed harbor dredging capacity improvements, et cetera.

Joe Bates:

We only have a few minutes left here. So I'd like to ask each of you to peer into your crystal ball. This is my final question, which I like asking on these, these round tables. And the question is, I'm going to start with you on a bond. One is a two part question one, and you've, you've gotten into this a little already, but how long will this recovery take for us to reach levels that were pre COVID and not only how long will it take, but what's, what are the, what's the critical thing that has to happen for the recovery to proceed?

Anirban Basu:

Oh, it'll take years to fully recover from this. I mean, I think the initial period of recovery has been sharp will be sharp going forward, even with some of these reopenings being postponed and some of them even being re reversed, but but it's going to take years. I mean, if I asked you the question, you know, back to you, how long did it take us to get to a 50 year low in unemployment? It took us 50 years. I mean, the economy was really shockingly good coming into this pre-crisis period. And we entered, as I say, 2020 with so much momentum. It's going to take a long time to put that back together again. And we in America, what's it going to take to really get back bipartisanship, right? The radical center re-emerging so we can work together so that something like a tip O'Neill and Ron Reagan on a Friday afternoon, going to a Georgetown pub to talk policy that could happen again in this country. And that's, what's going to take, cause we have unskilled immigration policy. We have unsettled infrastructure policy. We have global trade fragmenting and uncertain trade policy. And by the way, that relates to the port's outlook, as well as it turns out you put all that together. That's what we're going to need bipartisanship.

Joe Bates:

Okay. Rosemarie, what about you? How long will this recovery take? And what's the critical piece to proceeding?

Rosemarie Andolino:

I believe right now, I think it seemed when this whole hit, I should say we were at like the 19 North, the 1954 levels of, you know, in terms of aviation and travel. You know, after 9/11 we saw a 30% decline in travel, but it was one region right? Here, this is global. And in April we saw an 80% decline. And what really was moving was those that had to move, you know, whether it was medical professionals, meaning to move locations. You're seeing that come back with some leisure travel, but I think again, the business community is going to be key because that is the higher spend that the airlines and others need. And that is really the bigger indicator. I think you're looking at, I mean, 2022 really before you'll see kind of the comeback here, because I think we're at least a year out from a vaccine, because again, we talked about that that's going to be key for people to feel comfortable and safe. The one thing we have in the United States is short haul traffic and domestic traffic, right?

Rosemarie Andolino:

So you can travel essentially within the 50 States with less restrictions. So I think people, whether they travel by car, but by air they'll feel comfortable getting on the flight for an hour with their masks and, you know, better cleanliness the activities that have occurred on aircraft now. So you're going to continue to see that consolidation, I think will happen fairs for probably then, you know, start going up in that regard. But international traffic, we're still looking at probably 2024 before that really comes back. So, you know, it's gonna, it's gonna be a while. Ideally, you know, the industry itself there are things that need to be done right, to make travel better for everyone, whether it be the passenger, the airlines, or the airports, whether it's funding. We talked about NEPA and, you know, constructability of programs, et cetera, and implementation.

Rosemarie Andolino:

So I would hope that during this time Congress can take them and the leadership can come together from the different organizations to actually solve those solutions so that when traffic does come back, when we are earnestly building, you know, new programs, bigger projects, you know, building the terminals of the future for our airports that have not had those investments in many, many years, that we're able to do those with great technology with simplified processes and proper funding so that they can continue to be the economic engines that they have been for communities across the country.

Joe Bates:

Great. David, you next and we'll close it out with Jeff.

David Zipper:

Sure. I find this question. It would be a lot easier for me to answer if we were talking about Canada or about Holland, because there, you're talking about basically like the, the V I think, which is like, you basically have the virus come, you, you provide some, put some cash in people's pockets to make the economy be, be put it in a coma basically. And then you come back out and if we're talking about those countries, you can see that already at this point was made earlier that auto traffic is back up and it's already higher than the peak rush hour to auto traffic is higher than it was before t he virus in places like Longxeuver in China and, and Shengen. But we, we frankly blew our chance to do that in this country.

David Zipper:

And you know, and I actually worry about how bad I think things could actually get much worse in the next few months, as people start losing their homes, being foreclosed on as unemployment benefits run out. I don't think we realized that we are on the precipice of things, getting a lot worse with a lot of people in the middle class or lower middle class being unable to just survive and who knows what that's going to do. It, that that actually leads to political questions that go far beyond you know, the demand for certain types of engineering services. But I will say that it's going to take a long time before we're going to be, we need a vaccine. And even with the vaccine, I think it's going to take a long time in the United States to see a rebound in, in, in critical parts of the economy, especially for engineers, such as office construction. We're a long way away from that. I think we're a long way away from it with regards to to urban transportation. And to be honest, like, like the most important things to do now in my view is to be honest, to call your elected representatives and tell them we absolutely need more stimulus money in people's pockets. Now that's my personal view.

Joe Bates:

Great. Thanks, David. And Jeff, what about you? And then after your comments, Jeff, we're going to go to Daphne to close us out here.

Jeff Davis:

In terms of additional federal dollars for new infrastructure you know, new projects, new structures, new routes. I don't expect any action on that this year because Democrats, particularly in the House and Republicans are a light they're light years apart on the relative priorities, they believe should be given to highways versus transit and mass transit and Amtrak, the whole rural, urban divide. And every day, that gets closer to the election with the polls, where they are Democrats saying, why would I bother negotiating issues that fundamental with Republican Senate and Republican president when there's a 50, 50-ish or plus chance that starting in January, they could hope that Democrats get the trifecta and write a bill. They really want, instead of locking a compromise priorities in for five or six years next year is what it's all gonna be about. You know, the extensive infrastructure to be one of many priorities. In addition to coronavirus, it's all going to get wrapped up in the fact that starting August 1st of next year, the debt sexual debt limit will reset. And they'll start taking emergency measures.

Jeff Davis:

We've already added four point 6 trillion, I think since the last reset August 1st, just a year ago. So this will be by far the largest debt limit increase in the history of the country. And so September, October, next year, treasury, won't be able to move money around and traditionally many of your major turning points in federal fiscal policy in the last 30 years, Graham Rudman the 1999, three budget deals, budget control act HARP, Fannie Freddie bailout, last year budget deals. They all revolve around debt debt, ceiling crisis of trying to find ways to get the votes, to raise the debt limit and all the fiscal policy for that year wound up getting wrapped up in it. So I expect that to be the centerpiece of next year, around September, October, 2021, that will set the stage for fiscal policy for the next five to 10 years.

Joe Bates:

Got it. Yeah. Well, let's, let's all keep our fingers crossed that we have a vaccine by then. So at least we can take that out of the equation. Thank you all to the panelists for joining us and Daphne, why don't you go ahead and close this out.

Daphne Bryant:

Great. Thank you. Thank you all for joining us today. Thank you to our panelists and our donors for making this session possible. We have a short evaluation that we'll send you this afternoon. So please share your experience with us. Thank you all. Have a great afternoon and please stay safe. Thank you.

Share | Download(Loading)