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No matter what happens Tuesday, change is slow for struggling industry

By Caley Clinton

There are many things riding on Tuesday’s presidential election, but immediate construction spending isn’t one of them.

Whether President Barack Obama wins a second term or Mitt Romney swoops in for his chance at running the nation, there’s just not that much money to go around.

“The public just has not shown a willingness to support new or higher taxes,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. “Current revenue sources are not enough to sustain current levels of spending, so infrastructure spending is headed for a prolonged slide.”

Obama might support a higher level of spending overall, sure, but infrastructure seems to be less of a priority than social programs. The men and women who make their living in construction need a commitment to new roads and bridges, not universal health care.

Even if the victor decides to reprioritize infrastructure spending in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, that money is going to benefit one specific region, not the U.S. as a whole.

In order to give a significant boost to construction nationwide, someone needs to write some fat checks. But it’s hard to do that with little public support for increased spending.

Both presidential hopefuls can make all the promises they want in advance of Tuesday’s election, but without the money to make a difference, Obama and Romney are as powerless as a student council candidate with dreams of candy-only vending machines and water fountains that flow with soda.

“Ultimately, who is president has a relatively small impact on the economy, especially in the short term,” said Bernard Markstein, U.S. chief economist for Reed Construction Data. “The next six months to a year are largely baked in the cake.

“Our government is set up to, in general, not have great change. You lean a little one way or lean a little the other way.”

So if the cake is baked, what’s the point of voting Tuesday? The point is the long term. Obama or Romney might not be able to make sweeping changes by Wednesday, but they could set the course for the next several years.

Business is about managing risk, and the thousands of construction company owners looking to Tuesday’s election need to assess who they think is their best answer for the long term.

The next president might not write you a check next week, but he could put in place regulations and economic policies that will green light projects a couple of years from now.

All people can do is cast their ballots, cross their fingers and hope whoever ends up as president eventually can write checks the industry can cash.

Caley Clinton, associate editor of The Daily Reporter, once ran for student council on a soda-flowing-from-fountains platform.

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