Wednesday, November 02, 2011

President's $60 Billion In Infrastructure Funding Likely To Fail

Nov 2: As part of President Obama's "We Can't Wait" campaign, he delivered remarks in front of Washington, DC's Key Bridge and urged Congress to pass the transportation piece of the American Jobs Act (AJA), which he said would make an immediate investment of $50 billion in the nation's transportation infrastructure and a $10 billion investment to create a bipartisan National Infrastructure Bank. He indicated that together, the initiatives would put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads, rails, and runways.

    A White House release reports that according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, the Key Bridge is in need of crucial repairs and maintenance work. In order to ensure the Key Bridge remains both safe and functional well into the future, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) proposed a $20 million project to rehabilitate and repair critical portions of the bridge. However, the city is deferring this maintenance to 2015 due to a lack of funds. If Congress passes this bill, DDOT could make these critical repairs more quickly and put Americans back to work as early as 2013.

    The President said, "Construction workers have been among the Americans hit hardest over the past few years. And that makes no sense when there's so much of America that needs rebuilding. This week, Congress has the chance to do something about it and pass a bill that will put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, airports and transit systems. It's a bill that includes the kinds of ideas both parties have voted for in the past, it's paid for, and its ideas are supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people. It's time for Congress to act."

    The White House released a report entitled, Recent Examples of the Economic Benefits From Investing In Infrastructure, to highlight the importance of rebuilding roads, bridges, railways, and airports across the nation. The report states, "In order to meet the needs of a growing economy, there is an ongoing need for new investments to maintain, upgrade, and expand the nation's stock of transportation infrastructure." The report highlights projects from Arizona, D.C., Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

    The Administration also announced several "common-sense steps" it has taken to improve the process of reviewing and approving transportation projects, help cut red tape, and leverage additional private sector funding in order to promote private sector growth and job creation. The steps include:

  • Directing the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to award $527 million in competitive TIGER grants by the end of 2011 -- months ahead of schedule. The TIGER program puts American workers back on the job by helping to rebuild our nation's roads and bridges, and working on innovative projects like streetcar and light rail systems. This year, DOT received about 1,000 applications, including at least one from every state.
  • Directing DOT to shorten the application process for the 2012 round of TIFIA funding [Transportation Infrastructure Finance And Innovation Act], which will accelerate projects and put workers back on the job more quickly. TIFIA provides up to one-third of the financing needed for bridge, tunnel, toll, transit, and other large-scale transportation projects. That means the annual funding level of $110 million in TIFIA funds can support projects totaling up to $3 billion in construction.
  • Establishing a Transportation Rapid Response Team to expedite reviews of surface transportation projects. Co-chaired by the Council on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Department of Transportation, the team will identify and implement best practices to improve the transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of environmental review and permit decisions for transportation projects, protecting public health and putting Americans back to work.
    On the motion to proceed S.1769, the Rebuild America Jobs Act.the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, "I hope we can work out something to have a vote on this most important measure. It is very important. This is a piece of legislation that the entire population of America supports by a ratio of some 76 percent. Republicans support it; Democrats support it; Independents support it. The only people in the world who do not support it are Republicans here in the Senate. So I hope we can work out something and move to this and it would be unnecessary for us to have to have cloture invoked or try to have cloture invoked." Senator Reid indicated that a cloture vote would be held on Thursday morning (November 3) if some deal between Democrats and Republican cannot be worked out.
    In a separate release, Senator Reid said, "Tomorrow the Senate will vote on the Rebuild America Jobs Act, a plan to put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work constructing thousands of miles of roads and bridges, runways and train tracks. The plan is paid for with a small tax -- less than a penny -- on every dollar a person earns in excess of $1 million a year. The legislation asks millionaires and billionaires to contribute just a little bit more than they do today, knowing there is a price tag associated with getting our economy back on track. My Republican colleagues say they oppose this plan to hire hundreds of thousands of construction workers and rebuild our nation's collapsing infrastructure because they believe the wealthiest Americans can't afford to pay a few pennies more. But even the majority of the people who would pay this tax say that simply isn't true. They support our plan. . .
    "So, tomorrow my Republican colleagues will face a choice. The choice is not whether to invest in roads or bridges, or whether the richest of the rich can spare a few dollars for the sake of our economy. The choice is about priorities. Who will Republicans put first — the millions of ordinary Americans struggling to find work and put food on the table? Or the millionaires and billionaires whose biggest problem is that they may have to pay an additional $7,000 on the second million they make each year?. . . Seventy-two percent of Americans, including 54 percent of Republicans, want us to pass this plan. And 76 percent of them, including 56 percent of Republicans, want us to pay for it by asking the nation's wealthiest citizens to contribute their fair share. . ."
    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not respond to Senator Reid's remarks directly, but instead urged the Senate to take up what Republicans are calling the House-passed "Forgotten 15" -- referring to 15 bills that have bee passed in the House and are now waiting to be considered in the Senate [See WIMS 10/28/11]. Senator McConnell said, ". . .the Republican Majority in the House of Representatives has been passing bills that actually have a chance of gaining bipartisan support and becoming law. They're actually trying to get something done.

    "Unlike the President and the Democrats who run the Senate, House Republicans are designing legislation to pass, rather than fail. They want to make a difference rather than a point. And the only thing keeping these bills from becoming law is the fact that Democrats in the Senate won't take them up. We know the President's strategy. His so-called jobs bill has one purpose: to divide us. Just this morning, I read a story that quoted some Democrat operative almost bragging about the fact that they don't except any of the legislation the President's been out there talking about on his bus tour to pass. They openly admit these bills are designed to fail.

    "It's not exactly a state secret that Republicans -- and yes, some Democrats -- don't think we should be raising taxes right now on the very people we're counting on to create the jobs we need to get us out of a jobs crisis. And yet the one thing that every single proposal Democrats bring to the floor has in common is that it does just that. So the Democrats' plan is to keep putting bills on the floor they know ahead of time we'll vote against, instead of trying to solve the problem. And they don't even hide it. The President's top strategist actually issued a memo a few weeks ago saying the President would use this legislation not as a way to help people but as a way to pummel Republicans. Meanwhile, House Republicans have passed bill after bill that are actually designed to do something. . . [Senator McConnell listed the 15 bills passed by the House]

    "This is just the latest example of a simple, bipartisan bill that struggling businesses are begging us to pass.  But that Senate Democrats are holding up right now because it doesn't fit with their story line. "I'm not saying they have to vote on every one of these bills just as they are. There's an amendments process for that. "But why not take them up? "Everyone would help create jobs. And none of them would raise taxes. . .

    "What we're witnessing in Washington right now is two very different styles of governance: a Republican majority in the House that believes we should actually do something about the problems we face, and which has put together and actually passed bipartisan legislation that would help address those problems. And a Democratic Majority in the Senate that's teamed up with the White House on a strategy of doing nothing -- all for the sake of trying to score political points and spread the blame for an economy that their own policies have cemented into place as they look ahead to an election that's more than a year away. . ."

    Access a release from the White House (click here). Access the White House report on infrastructure projects (click here). Access a release from Sen. Reid (click here). Access the complete statement and video from Sen. McConnell (click here). Access legislative details for S.1769 (click here). [#Transport]