Category Archives: News

President Trump to Present a $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

Fulfilling one of his campaign promises, US President Donald Trump will uncover his plan for rebuilding the country’s infrastructure this week. The plan will cost US taxpayers $1.5 trillion, but is heavily dependent on state and local funding sources.

The plan will centerpiece a $200 billion pledge from the federal government which will be used to leverage money from cities and state budgets which will earmark them to roads, highways, ports, airports and more.

“Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and — where appropriate — tapping into private sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit,” Trump said at last month’s State of the Union address.

Trump has said many times that the deteriorating roads and highways are holding the country back from faster expansion of the economy. Some lawmakers and others say that this issue should have been dealt with last year and Trump’s first big push in Congress, instead of the health care issue. Infrastructure is a bipartisan issue that would have helped create a more unified Congress.

The plan was previewed by administration officials as containing two key components: funding for new investments which will help speed up repairs on crumbling roads and airports; and a more efficient way for projects to get the permits they need, so projects can get underway faster. The officials added that the $200 million will come from cuts in other programs.

EY Appoints first Woman to Lead US Division

Kelly Grier, 48, was appointed to be chairman and managing partner of Ernst & Young LLP, an appointment which distinguishes her as the  firm’s first woman to lead the company in the United States.

Until her promotion Ms. Grier served as the central US regional managing partner for EY. She will replace Steve Howe, the current chairman, on July 1, 2018. When Grier takes over it will make her the third female head at the Big Four accounting firms. Deloitte and KPMG have both had women at the helm since 2015, Cathy Engelbert and Lynne Doughtie, respectively. Only PwC is led by a man, Tim Ryan.

“Kelly was the best choice to lead us forward,” Mr. Howe said in an interview. “We’re very proud of our focus on diversity and inclusion.”

Ms. Grier has been at EY since 1990, and was promoted to US regional managing partner in 2015. She was the company’s vice chair of talent for the Americas and was also a managing partner at EY’s office in Chicago. She has also worked in Switzerland and Germany.

EY, and other major accounting firms, are international umbrella organizations. They have separate member companies in each different country where they have operations. Ms. Grier will lead the US firm, plus serve as the managing partner of EY’s Americas region. EY’s global chairman and CEO is and will remain Mark Weinberger.

“Kelly has demonstrated uncompromised integrity and an ability to manage high-performing teams, while delivering exceptional results for EY clients,” Mr. Weinberger stated.

Tax Reform: A Work in Progress

Many businesses which form the backbone of the US economy are worried about the Trump tax reform plan and the possible negative effects it could have on the economy.

Sectors of the US economy such as construction, wind power, and electric cars might experience job shrinkage and harm done if the Republican tax plan is enacted as it is now.

The effects of the tax plan, although only in its earliest stages and nowhere near law, have already been felt in the marketplace. Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s largest manufacture of turbines used in wind power, saw its stock tumble by 9 percent. Tesla, the leading electric car maker had a stock downturn as well, closing lower by 6.8 percent. The Trump plan includes cutting the $7,500 tax break for the purchase of an electric car.

Homebuilders are also up in arms over the tax reform. The National Association of Home Builders are taking aim at the Republican’s proposal to remove the tax credit for mortgage payments. The chairman of the association, Granger MacDonald, said that congress was “ignoring the needs of America’s working-class families and small businesses.”

“The bill eviscerates existing housing tax benefits by drastically reducing the number of homeowners who can take advantage of mortgage interest and property tax incentives,” he said.

Some stocks of homebuilders’ companies lost ground. Toll Brothers fell almost 6%, among the worst casualties.

Others are happy with the plan. The US Chamber of Commerce endorsed the plan cautiously, saying the plan was “exactly what our nation needs to get our economy growing faster”, but “a lot of work remains to be done to get the exact policy mix right.”

Wildfires Burning Across Western USA

Photo courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture

This year has been a hard one when it comes to natural disasters. Florida, Texas, the Caribbean and beyond were devastated by Hurricane Irma. Southeastern Texas, Louisiana and more suffered from the winds, rain and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. In Southeast Asia floods caused by monsoon rain have forced millions to flee and resulted in over 1,000 deaths. But water and wind are not the only deadly vectors mother nature can unleash.

In the United States the western states of California, Oregon, Montana, Washington and more have been enduring raging, fast spreading wildfires producing smoke and ash extending far beyond the confines of the fires themselves. As of September 14, almost 2 million acres were burning, an amount of land equivalent in area to the states of Rhode Island and Delaware put together. That area includes 41 un-contained large blazes under attack by a force of National Guard responders numbering over 25,000; half a battalion of soldiers.

Those two million acres now in flames is only a fraction of the 8 million that has already burned so far this season. More than 500 homes have also been destroyed, and the Forest Service has spent over $1.75 billion fighting these fires this fiscal year. The Interior Department has spent over $391 million.

In ordinary years the autumn would bring relief from summer-prone wildfires, but this year there seems to be no end in sight. One of the explanations for the severity and length of the fires is the severe drought that Montana, Oregon and elsewhere have seen this year. Record high temperatures over the summer completely dried up any regions that had been soaked with snow and rain last winter and spring.

Houston Mayor Says Flooded City Ready for Business

Saying Labor Day is the deadline, Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner says his city, America’s fourth-most populated, will be “open for business” despite mandatory evacuations of flooded homes, billions of dollars in damage, and many parts of town still under water due to Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in south east Texas on August 25th, 2017.

“Anyone who was planning on a conference or a convention or a sporting event or a concert coming to this city, you can still come,” the mayor said to CBS. “We can do multiple things at the same time.”

Officials are still worried about explosions at a chemical plant damaged by the hurricane, the country’s most devastating in ten years. To ease the danger of further explosions experts performed a controlled burn last Sunday of extremely volatile compounds at the Arkema facility in Crosby. After Harvey’s flooding knocked out generators three trailers caught fire.

The authorities stated that they are continuing to monitor the air quality within a mile and a half radius of the plant, which is outside Houston. People within the vicinity of the chemical plant have still not returned to their homes.

In addition, floodwaters have overcome at least five toxic waste Superfund locations close to Houston, with the possibility that some may have sustained damage. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet assessed the full extent of the damage.