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Arizona leads nation in Construction Employment

Arizona Leads Way As Construction Employment Expands In 29 States

Construction employment expanded in 29 states between September and October with Arizona leading the way, the Associated General Contractors of America reported in an analysis of state employment data released today by the Labor Department.

The new figures continue a nearly year-long trend of ups and downs in construction employment as the industry performs stimulus-funded work yet grapples with broad market uncertainty.

“Considering that most states adding construction jobs in October had shed workers in September, it is safe to say that construction employment remains volatile,” says Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Construction is no longer in free fall, but the industry remains fragile as improvements vary greatly by state and project type.”

Arizona (4.4 percent, 5,000 jobs) experienced the largest one-month seasonally adjusted percentage increase and Texas (2.3 percent, 8,800 jobs) the largest one-month total increase in construction employment between September and October.

Other states adding large numbers of construction jobs during October included Illinois (1.5 percent, 3,000 jobs); Washington (2.1 percent, 3,000 jobs); South Carolina (3.2 percent, 2,500 jobs); and Colorado (1.6 percent, 1,800 jobs).

Simonson noted 20 states plus the District of Columbia lost construction jobs during the past month, while construction employment remained unchanged in Rhode Island. Minnesota (-2.7 percent, -2,300 jobs) lost the highest percent of construction jobs for the month while Florida lost the most jobs (-2.4 percent, -8,600 jobs). Among other states losing construction jobs between September and October were Pennsylvania (-1.0 percent, -2,200 jobs); Maryland (-1.3 percent, -1,900 jobs); Georgia (-1.2 percent, -1,800 jobs); and Massachusetts (-1.4 percent, -1,500 jobs).

Eleven states and D.C. added construction jobs for the year, Simonson added. The largest year-over-year percentage increase was in Kansas, where construction employment rose 9.0 percent (5,100 jobs), followed by Oklahoma (8.1 percent, 5,400 jobs); Arkansas (5.1 percent, 2,600 jobs); D.C. (4.6 percent, 500 jobs); and West Virginia (3.3 percent, 1,100 jobs).

Among the 39 states that lost construction jobs over the past 12 months, Nevada experienced the largest percentage decline (-19.5 percent, -14,500) while California lost the most jobs (-45,700, -7.9 percent). Other states experiencing large declines for the year include Idaho (-15.2 percent, -5,000 jobs); Vermont (-13.4 percent, -1,800 jobs); Montana (-10.5 percent, -2,500 jobs); and Missouri (-10.3 percent, -11,900 jobs).

Association officials said that temporary stimulus funding has helped the industry, but that most firms were worried about business levels for next year. They added that private, state and local demand for construction remains weak, while long-term federal infrastructure programs and tax rates remain in limbo. “We won’t see sustained job growth until the private sector picks up and long-term federal plans are clear,” says Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s CEO.

State Budget Cuts Will Hit Arizona Hospitals - AZ Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Despite Restoring Some Funds, State Budget Cuts Will Hit Arizona Hospitals

It was looking pretty grim at 1700 W. Washington St., as Gov. Jan Brewer and a badly splintered Arizona Legislature struggled to cobble together a state budget that would have the appearance of being balanced.

Taking a follow-the-money tactic, policymakers targeted programs such as education and health care that annually receive large sums of taxpayer dollars. The budget Brewer and Republican lawmakers put together, addressing a $3.2 billion shortfall for fiscal year 2011, sent shock waves throughout the health care community.

The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AzHHA) estimated the cuts would reduce hospital revenue by $1.15 billion in state and federal funds in FY 2011, which began July 1, and cost the overall health care community $2.7 billion. For example, the budget package eliminated coverage under the state’s Medicaid program — Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) — to 310,500 adults and children, and eliminated KidsCare, ending health care coverage for 47,000 children. KidsCare provides low-cost insurance for the children of parents who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but are still considered the so-called working poor.

Before the ink was dry on the bills the governor had signed, officials learned that the landmark health care reform bill passed by Congress prohibited such budget cuts under the threat of losing federal funds. So lawmakers passed another bill to restore money stripped from AHCCCS and KidsCare. Failure to have taken the follow-up action, officials said, could have cost Arizona more than $7 billion in federal money for health care.

AzHHA strongly supported the governor’s push for a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase, which voters approved by a 64 percent to 36 percent margin. The tax increase remains in effect until May 31, 2013, and is expected to generate about $3 billion over three years to protect education, public safety and health and human services from further cuts.

Despite avoiding a funding disaster, hospitals still are forced to deal with a considerable loss of government dollars. Laurie Liles, president and CEO of AzHHA, says hospitals sustained $50.1 million in cuts to the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program, which provides special funding to hospitals that treat a significant number of AHCCCS and uninsured patients. The state cut $16.7 million, resulting in a loss of $33.4 million in federal funds. The federal stimulus act of 2009 matches state dollars three-to-one for DSH, so when the state trims $1 from the program, the total loss is $4.

Hospitals also lost some $37.3 million in funding for graduate medical education, which helps pay for physician instruction programs.

“There is no funding for 2011,” Liles says. “That is a huge loss for Arizona, considering the significance of our physician shortage.”

In addition to those losses, the Legislature authorized AHCCCS to reduce all provider payments, including those to hospitals, by up to 5 percent for fiscal 2011.

“We don’t know what percentage cut that hospitals will receive,” Liles says. “Hospitals are planning on the full 5 percent, but we’re hoping it will be somewhat less.”

Since 2008, Arizona hospitals have sustained several hundred million dollars in payment cuts and freezes, which impact hospital employees — medical and non-medical, Liles says. The association has been monitoring how its member hospitals are dealing with the recession.

“We have found that hospitals are managing through a variety of ways,” Liles says, “with some staffing reductions, delays in capital construction and services to the community. Hospitals have had to make some very hard choices about services. Strategies that hospitals have been forced to employ affect all Arizonans.”

For example, Liles says, when hospitals are underpaid, either by AHCCCS or Medicare, hospitals shift those costs onto commercial health plans to make up the difference.

“We call that cost shift a hidden health care tax,” she says. “That results in higher premiums for businesses and families. We all end up paying for the cost shift that hospitals are forced to make.”

Liles, who previously was the chief lobbyist for AzHHA, says she spent a lot of time over the past few years visiting with legislators regarding the impact of the hidden health care tax.

In 2009, the Arizona Chamber Foundation, an affiliate of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, determined that all purchasers of health care coverage pay 40 percent more for hospital care through commercial insurance as a result of underpayments from AHCCCS and Medicare, Liles says.

“We look for more of the same,” she says.

Hospitals are counting on Congress to continue funding AHCCCS at an increased level.

“We have shared our concern with our congressional delegation,” Liles says. “The enhanced federal medical assistance percentage is absolutely vital to Arizona.”

The increased funding amounts to about $480 million — money needed to cover the expanded AHCCCS population — that the state is mandated to continue covering as a result of national health care reform. Without additional federal funding, Liles wonders: “How are our Legislature and governor going to pay for that? We are concerned about the care we provide. There are only so many places our state can cut.”

By The Numbers: Health Care Cuts

  • $50.1 million in cuts to the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program
  • $37.3 million in funding for graduate medical education
  • AHCCCS can reduce all provider payments by up to 5 percent

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Cash In On Solar Stimulus Funds - AZ Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Time Is Running Out To Cash In On Solar Stimulus Funds

Companies and investors across Arizona are deciding whether it’s time to “go solar.” As with any other financial undertaking, moving forward with solar must make economic sense. Despite dramatic strides in technology, solar energy projects are not yet viable without government incentives. Those hoping to maximize incentives for solar should note that a particularly useful one — Treasury grants in lieu of energy credits — will expire soon.

The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka the stimulus bill) contained two key provisions for solar:
Solar now qualifies for a federal energy tax credit of 30 percent of cost. The credit applies when equipment is placed in service, allowing faster recovery than the renewable electricity production tax credit. Unfortunately, credit in excess of tax liability is carried forward to the next tax year, for up to 20 years.

But taxpayers may elect a Treasury grant in lieu of the energy credit. Grants are paid in as little as 60 days after equipment is placed in service or under construction. Treasury grants thus allow recovery of 30 percent of the cost of solar equipment, regardless of current income tax liability. More than $3 billion has been set aside for the grant in lieu of energy credit program.

However, the grant has an expiring provision; to qualify, construction must begin by Dec. 31, 2010. Physical work of a significant nature is required. Site selection, planning, design, site clearing, and even excavation to change the contours of the land do not count as beginning construction.
Although Dec. 31 is fast approaching, with proper guidance and execution, there is still time to act. Planning is crucial. Overlooking certain regulatory and permitting requirements early on, for example, could push your project groundbreaking into 2011.

Steps for developing a successful solar plan:

  • Whether choosing more common photovoltaic (PV) rooftop panels or a larger thermal system, visit other companies with solar power systems already in place. Most states have associations dedicated to renewable energy that can direct you to these companies.
  • If a solar system appears feasible, assemble a team of experts to handle environmental, regulatory, tax, real estate, energy procurement and financial matters.
  • Determine your regulatory requirements and financial incentives. A good resource is www.dsireusa.org.
  • Hire a contractor to conduct an energy audit to establish a baseline for the energy needs that must be met.
  • Companies usually partner with a “solar energy provider” that installs, owns and operates the system. The provider sells lower-cost electricity to the company under a long-term contract, while generating valuable renewable energy credits that can be sold to your electric utility, further reducing electricity costs. State associations can provide listings of providers.
  • From a list of pre-selected providers, request information regarding their abilities, such as technology, installation time frames, references and financial information. Choose the best finalists. Then issue an RFP specifying the amount of energy needed, the desired length and key terms of a power purchase agreement (PPA), project size, and the warranty you expect.
  • Once a provider is selected, the land or roof lease and PPA need to be negotiated. A 20-year fixed-rate PPA is common. Companies also should meet with their electric utility to determine the grid interconnection and meter requirements, and the amount of renewable energy credits to be received.

How To Solar Stimulus Steps:

  • Do your homework.
  • Assemble a team of experts.
  • Determine regulatory requirements and financial incentives.
  • Hire a contractor to conduct an energy audit.
  • Partner with a solar energy provider.
  • Issue an RFP.
  • Negotiate a power purchase
  • agreement (PPA).


Mark Vilaboy also contributed to this article.  He practices tax law in the Phoenix office of Quarles & Brady. For more information, visit www.quarles.com.

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Flagstaff lost the highest percentage of construction jobs

Flagstaff Tops The Nation In Percentage of Construction Jobs Lost

Flagstaff lost the highest percentage of construction jobs between July 2009 and July of this year, as 276 of 337 metro areas nationally saw declines, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

Flagstaff lost 700 construction jobs, a 32 percent dip from last year. The Chicago-Joliet-Naperville area lost the most construction jobs — 32,900, or 23 percent.

Statewide, Arizona lost 13,900 construction jobs (down 114,000 from 128,000), an 11 percent decrease. It was a decrease of 54 percent from the state’s peak in 2006, according to the AGCA.

The Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale area lost 8,600 construction jobs (down 86,600 from 95,200), a 9 percent loss; and Tucson lost 2,300 construction jobs (down 14,200 from 16,500), for a 14 percent dip. Yuma fared the best, experiencing just a 7 percent loss.

The employment figures, based on an analysis of federal employment data, demonstrate the widespread decline in demand for construction services that continues to outpace stimulus-funded work, association officials say.

“There is no doubt that we have seen an increase in stimulus activity this summer,” says Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Unfortunately, that increase in stimulus activity is largely being overshadowed by continuing declines in overall demand for construction that are likely to persist well into next year.”

Other areas experiencing large declines in construction employment are: Las Vegas (14,800 jobs, 24 percent); Houston (14,700 jobs, 8 percent); Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale (10,700 jobs, 9 percent); and Seattle-Bellevue-Everett (10,400 jobs, 14 percent).

Simonson says that 31 metro areas actually added construction jobs over the past 12 months, while another 30 areas experienced no change in construction employment.

The construction economist said the impacts of the stimulus can be seen in the fact that many of the construction employment declines metro areas are experiencing are less severe than just a month ago. The year-over-year construction employment declines in cities such as Las Vegas, Houston and Seattle are less severe than the figures recorded in June, Simonson adds. However, he says that too few cities were adding construction jobs to have any widespread impact on construction employment.

“As much as we would hate to see how much worse the construction employment figures would be without the stimulus, the fact is our industry is continuing to suffer even as some areas of the economy have begun to expand,” says Stephen Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “And with regular, long-term infrastructure bills stalled in Congress, it looks like construction workers will have little opportunity to continue rebuilding our economy.”

tax day

Recovery Act Provides New Tax Benefits For Small Businesses

In response to an economic downturn the likes of which has not been seen since the Great Depression, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (commonly referred to as the Recovery Act) into law on Feb. 17. Intended to serve as a stimulus for the U.S. economy, the measures set forth in the Recovery Act are nominally worth approximately $787 billion.

Of those measures, roughly $288 billion are devoted to federal tax relief, with $51 billion aimed at providing tax benefits for small businesses. While the impact of the Recovery Act on individual taxpayers has been widely publicized, the beneficial tax provisions for small businesses and their owners have been overlooked. However, many of the Recovery Act’s new tax provisions offer significant tax savings opportunities for small businesses. Some of these provisions are highlighted below.

Election for longer net operating loss (NOL) carryback period
Currently, corporate taxpayers are allowed to use a NOL from one tax year to reduce taxable income in past or future tax years. Prior to the Recovery Act, NOLs could be carried back for two tax years and carried forward for 20 tax years. The Recovery Act now permits certain qualified small businesses to elect to increase the NOL carryback period from two years to three, four or five years for NOLs arising in a tax year beginning or ending in 2008.

Because many small businesses were profitable in tax years leading up to the current economic crisis, the extended carryback period provides small businesses with an opportunity to offset prior years’ taxable income with losses incurred in 2008. For purposes of the extended carryback period, qualifying small business are corporations whose average annual gross receipts are $15 million or less for the three-year period ending in 2008. As a result of the longer NOL carryback period, small businesses that experienced losses in 2008 likely can seek an immediate refund of income taxes paid in earlier years.

Expensing limits continued for another year
Before the enactment of the Recovery Act, the Internal Revenue Code’s expensing rules allowed businesses to deduct up to $133,000 of costs incurred in purchasing certain business machinery and equipment, instead of recovering those costs through depreciation deductions over a number of years. The Recovery Act increased that amount and now provides that, for tax years beginning in 2009, certain qualifying businesses have the option to deduct up to $250,000 of such costs. Although the increased expensing limits are subject to some limitations (for example, the $250,000 deduction is decreased dollar-for-dollar for purchases in excess of $800,000), any amounts that cannot be deducted because of these limitations can be carried forward to later years.

The more liberal expensing rules provided under the Recovery Act provide small businesses with the ability to take increased, current-year deductions for costs associated with acquiring business machinery and equipment, which should help to offset the often substantial economic outlays such purchases require.

Bonus first-year depreciation extended for another year
The Recovery Act also provides a one-year extension on the ability of businesses to take a “bonus” depreciation deduction for the first year new assets are placed in service. The bonus first-year depreciation deduction generally is equal to 50 percent of the cost of qualified property acquired and placed in service in 2009. Qualified property includes most types of tangible personal property, certain improvements to leased real property and most software. As with the increased expensing limits discussed above, the extension of the ability to claim a first-year bonus depreciation deduction may materially reduce the costs associated with acquiring new business property and equipment.

S corporation built-in gain holding period shortened temporarily
Typically, a Subchapter S corporation is not subject to an entity-level tax on its income. Rather, the S corporation’s income flows through to its shareholders, who then pay tax on their pro-rata share of the S corporation’s income. However, a business originally formed as a Subchapter C corporation, which later elects to be taxed as an S corporation, is subject to a built-in gain tax at the highest marginal corporate tax rate (currently 35 percent) on certain gains that are built-in at the time of the corporation’s S election.

These types of S corporations generally are subject to the built-in gain tax on the disposition of appreciated assets acquired during their C corporation period for the first 10 years after their S election. In other words, if the S corporation disposes of appreciated assets from its C corporation period during the 10 years following its S election, the corporation is subject to tax on the gain at the highest marginal corporate tax rate. Thanks to the Recovery Act, the built-in gain tax will not be imposed on any recognized built-in gain if the seventh year in the 10-year recognition period ended before 2009 or 2010. This provision will enable S corporations subject to the built-in gain tax to dispose of appreciated assets earlier in the recognition period without triggering the built-in gain tax on the transfer.

Deferred tax on debt forgiveness income
When debt is discharged or canceled, taxpayers generally must include the amount discharged in taxable, ordinary income. In order to reduce the economic hardships often associated with the recognition of this cancellation of indebtedness (COD) income, the Recovery Act now allows taxpayers to elect to defer the recognition of certain COD income that would otherwise be recognized in 2009 and 2010, until 2014 and then recognize the COD income ratably over five years. The type of COD income that may be deferred under the Recovery Act is COD income that results from the reacquisition or modification of certain business debt instruments during 2009 or 2010. This provision enables certain businesses that might otherwise have taxable income as a result of a debt modification to defer the recognition of that income into future, and hopefully better, tax years.

Kelly C. Mooney and Heather A. McKee are associates in the taxation department at Gallagher & Kennedy, www.gknet.com.

chart increase, AZ NASDAQ listed companies

An Analyst’s Look At How Arizona’s Nasdaq-Listed Companies Are Faring This Recession

Arizona has 52 Nasdaq-listed companies and the performance of those with the most capitalization during this economic downturn has been fairly good.

In early June, Stephen Taddie, managing member of Stellar Capital Management in Phoenix, reviewed the top 10 Arizona Nasdaq companies using Thomson Analytics as his data source. Those companies comprise nearly all the capitalization for Arizona Nasdaq-listed firms. They are Apollo Group, First Solar, Microchip Technology, PetSmart, ON Semiconductor, P.F. Chang’s, Amkor Technology, Mobile Mini, JDA Software and TASER International.

There was positive news concerning stock performance and internal company performance for the group as a whole.

Looking at stock performance for the three-month period from April 5 through June 5, Taddie found that “90 percent of the Arizona companies outperformed their peer group as a national comparison and all by a significant margin.”

Taddie next looked at stock prices for the year to date through May 31. While the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index was approximately even for that period, seven of the top 10 Arizona companies outperformed the index by a fairly wide margin, Taddie says. Those that did not tracked the index closely, he adds. The seven companies were First Solar, Microchip Technology, PetSmart, ON Semiconductor, P.F. Chang’s, Amkor Technology and JDA Software.

“Apollo Group, the largest of the top 10 as measured by market capitalization, fared better than the rest through the first quarter of 2009, but was surpassed by the others as investor confidence rose significantly in April and May, encouraging investors to look past the current economic data and the financial statements of smaller, less capitalized companies to the earnings potential many of these companies will have in a more stable environment,” Taddie says.

Taddie also reviewed a compilation of analysts’ estimates for internal company performance for 2009. As a group — not as individual companies — analysts estimate revenue for the top 10 will be flat this year, up just .49 percent, but that it will grow 13.5 percent in 2010.

“Over the last six months, we saw many analysts lengthen the duration of the downturn but also decrease its severity,” Taddie says. “If we break it down quarter by quarter, the data reflect a fairly dismal first half of 2009, followed by a fairly decent last half of 2009.”

Estimates for next year’s revenue vary widely, Taddie says, because it is difficult to measure the impact of federal stimulus packages and significant cost-cutting measures in many industries.

“A significant capital-expenditure decline has frozen budgets,” says Taddie, who also is a member of the Western Blue Chip Forecast panel for the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “One firm’s cost reduction is another’s revenue shortfall and that has been trickling down the supply chain.”

Taddie says the data paint a picture in which Arizona firms, like many other companies across the country, are trying to preserve shareholder value by more closely aligning capital expenditures with expected revenue growth, or the lack thereof.

“Typically, the larger the company, the more apt they are to take a bet and invest into a downturn, so when the tide turns, they capture more market share,” Taddie says. “The smaller the company, the less apt they are to do that because they can’t take that risk.”

Managing expenses and growth in an environment where revenue expectations are “jumping all over the place” is a challenge, Taddie says.

“References to this period will show up in economics and business-management textbooks for quite some time,” he says. “The data is showing that the Arizona top 10 are faring at least as well as other companies and, when compared to stock-price performance so far this year, better.”