Congress last week ended suspense and squeaked through a long-awaited transportation bill that allocates more than $100 billion over the next two-plus years for highway and infrastructure spending. And like many major laws, it also includes amendments and angles that seem far afield from the premise of the bill, and also are fodder for business stories.
For example, the law signed by President Obama on July 6 also includes changes to the way companies account for direct-benefit pension obligations, and to pension set-asides they must accrue, as this SFGate.com article notes. This angle might be worth pursuing if your area’s major employers still are funding traditional or direct-benefit pension plans; how will the law change their set-aside obligations, premiums paid to the federal pension guaranty office, taxes and other expenses — and will any of the changes lead to jobs creation or capital investment?
The passage of MAP 21, as the law is known, also preserves the student-loan interest-rate reduction, if you’ve been following that story, and has some other provisions like the one that has smoke shops quaking: Tucked into the law was a stipulation that tobacco retailers that provide roll-your-0wn equipment for patron use are cigarette manufacturers, not merchants, and can be taxed accordingly. If you’re a retail or personal finance reporter, that’s fertile fodder to pursue; as this South Florida Sun-Sentinel report indicates, it’s a blow for a certain segment of small businesses as well as cash-strapped consumers.
Meanwhile the thrust of MAP 21 has to do with the nation’s roadways and infrastructure; here’s the link to the bill’s page, H.R. 4348, at GovTrack.com. If you read through the full text, or even the executive summary, you’ll find a plethora of angles for a wide range of business beats from financial services to the business of the environment to consulting and marketing to trucking to consumer issues.
For example, provisions of the bill affect the waste managment and utilities businesses by regulating coal ash produced in the generation of electricity — so-called coal combustion residuals are cited by the EPA as the largest waste stream in the U.S.; who knew? Tracing the path of such waste in your area, and the specialty businesses that handle it, could be of interest to every reader or viewer who uses electricity.
Comb the federal bill for tangents that relate to your areas of focus. But also, now that billions of federal dollars are secure, really mine your state transporation department for the effects of these dollars on small- and medium-sized busineses in your state. Here’s a link to every state transportation department, from the Federal Highway Administration. Get to know yours; some are more transparent than others about their procurement processes but I found a treasure trove of information on several sample sites, leading right to the very companies that may be creating jobs due to the new certainty of federal funding.
And while many are in expected heavy-duty industries such as paving, others involve other industries, like this Washington state request-for-proposal (RFP) for communications equipment to be installed along some eight miles of roadway, or this Connecticut bid for a marketing group to survey train riders’ satisfaction. With the transportation funds secured, mining your state’s agency for angles could prove fruitful on just about any business beat.