In the backdrop to the recent political fireworks on
the federal debt limit is a sobering reality: America is in the midst of a
national jobs emergency. California,
struggling with 12% percent unemployment, is a perfect example of what’s
The August U.S. Labor Department
employment report showed anemic job growth.
In July, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released what it called the
"brutal findings" in its "Small Business Outlook Survey" of more than 1,400
small business owners. Nearly 65 percent
said they have no plans to hire in the next year. "Economic uncertainty" was the primary
"Hard times" stories reverberate throughout the U.S.
construction industry, currently reeling with a 15.6 percent national unemployment
rate, 6.4 points higher than the national average. In California, construction industry
unemployment hovers between 20 and 25%. A
July national survey of transportation contractors by the American Road &
Transportation Builders Association found more than half of the respondents
operating below 75 percent capacity.
Some reported the highway and bridge construction market is the worst
they’ve experienced in their lifetimes.
At the same time, the nation’s highways and transit systems
are in sorry shape. The Federal Highway
Administration says nearly one quarter of the nation’s bridges is deficient and
need to be repaired. And traffic
congestion is getting worse; now costing the economy $115 billion in lost
productivity and wasted fuel. In the
past few years, two congressionally-chartered commissions and scores of public
and private sector groups have all documented the massive gap between existing
investment levels and what is needed just to maintain current infrastructure
Inexplicably, however, when it comes to addressing these
overwhelming challenges, Congress and the President continue to kick the can
down the road. The rhetoric from leaders of both political parties has left the
impression that they are committed to creating jobs, yet no tangible
legislative action has taken place in recent months.
A public policy solution that will protect and create jobs
has been staring Congress right in the face: passage of the nearly two-year
overdue federal highway and transit investment bill.
A bipartisan plan emerging in the U.S. Senate would generate
the resources to maintain the current annual federal investment to state
governments for highways ($41 billion) and transit ($10 billion) over the next
two years. This is a much better
alternative than the U.S. House of Representatives approach, which accepts the
Highway Trust Fund status quo and the accompanying 35 percent cut in federal
highway investment. For our state, this
would mean a loss of nearly $1 Billion in funding and put 43,000 construction
jobs in jeopardy.
The economic impacts of transportation investment are
many. Internationally-respected Global
Insight said every additional $1 billion in federal outlays for highway and
transit capital investments increases the nation’s Gross Domestic Product by
$2.19 billion, disposable income by $977 million and federal tax revenues by
$770 million. Conversely, disinvestment
or deferred investment, leads to losses in productivity and international competitiveness,
wasted fuel and increased adverse health and environmental impacts.
Virtually everything that Americans wear, eat and use each
day comes to them via the surface transportation system. Strengthening and improving this system will
help alleviate business uncertainty and the national unemployment emergency by
creating jobs, but also lead to expanded long-term economic productivity and
international competitiveness-both outcomes essential to restoring balance to
the federal budget.
Investing in our infrastructure systems is a core government
responsibility. When our Senators return
to Washington in September, we hope they will get back to the important work at
hand – job creation. Supporting the
Senate plan that will help protect and create thousands of jobs in California
and throughout the country is a great first step to putting America’s economy
back on track.