Ask but please don’t receive

If you’re a loyal monoblogue reader, you’re probably aware I belong to the American Institute of Architects since they’re an organization that purportedly represents the interests of those of us in that profession.

During the week of March 24-28 the AIA holds what it terms “Advocacy Week.” Formerly known as Grassroots, which was held each February, this would’ve been a week architects descended on Washington to pitch the items they’d like to receive from the federal government. With this revision of name and focus, they’ve changed tactics a little bit and look to have members buttonhole their home members of Congress back in the district while they’re on their Easter recess.

On Friday I got my normal e-mail from the AIA, which featured among other things the “asks” the organization thinks members need from Congress:

  • Enact incentives for energy-efficient buildings—Ask members of Congress to vote to extend tax incentives to promote energy efficiency and cosponsor legislation, soon to be introduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), that will provide incentives for homebuilders and homeowners to design, construct, and renovate energy-efficient homes and neighborhoods
  • Eliminate retainage rules on architects and engineers—Urge members of Congress to pass legislation to eliminate the 10 percent retainage of fees on architects and engineers who contract with the federal government
  • Promote healthy and safe communities through transportation funding—Oppose proposals to raid the Mass Transit Trust Fund to shore up the Highway Trust Fund and support provisions in next year’s highway bill that provide incentives for projects that build safe and prosperous communities.

I’ll take these one at a time. Needless to say they’re generally not listening to me as a member.

Energy efficiency is great, and I’m all for it assuming the payback time for additional costs incurred during construction is relatively short. What I don’t favor is the federal government tinkering in the market or mandating the energy efficiency of buildings. Nor do I believe that there should be tax incentives for particular behavior. Not only does that tend to make taxes more progressive rather that more flat as I prefer, it places way too much power in the hands of those who aren’t elected but determine the actual regulations which dictate the method of compliance.

On the other hand, I do agree with the elimination of retainage for architects and engineers. We have a hard enough time getting problem clients to pay up let alone the federal government arbitrarily withholding 10 percent. Retainage is appropriate for contractors as incentive to finish the loose ends that always occur when they deem a project complete, but since our job as architects can come to an end once the permits are secured (it depends on the contract whether we administer construction, check shop drawings, etc.) there’s no real reason to hold our payments up.

The AIA only bats .333 with me though as they strike out on point number three. I say raid that Mass Transit Trust Fund until it’s zeroed out! The Highway Trust Fund is far more important although I’m a little dubious about how they distribute it to the states because of their mandates withholding funds if states do not pass particular laws, violating the Tenth Amendment.

I know the AIA has swallowed the global warming and sustainability Kool-Aid big time and they’re foes of suburban sprawl. Does building highways farther and farther out to the suburbs encourage sprawl? Of course. But they seem to have the same philosophy the O’Malley Administration has here in Maryland – force commuters onto mass transit that isn’t very convenient and not many who have a choice would normally ride. The market of $3-4 a gallon gas will do much more to fill up those mostly empty buses and trains that rely on the federal largesse for their subsidy than any amount of money the federal government throws at them ever will.

(Of course, had we been able to extract our own oil supplies and build more refineries we may not have had $3-4 gas in the first place! I suppose we have to assume it’s what the Democrats and Wayne Gilchrest wanted, but I digress.)

The second point of spending money on improving highways and not mass transit is the trucking aspect. Yes, trains are efficient but rarely can goods go directly from point A to point B exclusively by rail. Instead of a trucker sitting in traffic watching a subsidized half-empty train car go by on the Red Line while he’s burning $4 a gallon diesel fuel, maybe a wider highway would help the truck get where it’s headed more efficiently.

Furthermore, love it or hate it Ocean City depends on tourism and not many tourists want to make the trip for a week’s vacation in OC via bus. Since you can’t get there by train we need improved highways so tourists aren’t spending $50 on a tank of gas to be bogged down in a traffic jam.

Then again, I suppose I can’t expect much out of my group when its associated political action committee called ArchiPAC announced a list of recipents of their campaign cash for the last reporting period:

  • Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA, for re-election in 2010)
  • Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)
  • Rep. Stephen Cohen (D-TN)
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)
  • Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD)
  • Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO, for re-election in 2010)
  • Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO, for 2008 U.S. Senate campaign)
  • Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM, for 2008 U.S. Senate campaign)
  • Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY)

Fortunately, this isn’t like a union where I’m forced to give money that’s used for political purposes but with most of these recipients (save Rep. Cantor) having an ACU rating less than 55 and four of them in the single digits, these politicians may be AIA-friendly but they’re sure not working in my interest.

If the AIA truly wanted to advocate for the interests of architects, they would work to make the federal government and the tax man get off our backs, and allow the market to dictate what is built. We architects are a pretty creative bunch so let us sell the clients on the advantages of good and energy-efficient design instead of having the government dictate things to us!

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.