(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
I am pleased to have with us today two national leaders who represent businesses and workers across this country to discuss the need for investments in transportation, and more specifically, the need to enact a surface transportation bill this year.
During his State of the Union address on January 26th, President Obama called for the rebuilding of America. The two witnesses who will testify here today, Tom Donohue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, were listening.
Following the speech, they issued a rare joint statement supporting the President’s plan to create jobs and accelerate the economic recovery through investment in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. As Mr. Trumka and Mr. Donohue stated, building a modern transportation system will help our nation compete in the global economy.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO don’t always agree, so Mr. Donohue and Mr. Trumka’s willingness to stand together in support of a strong surface transportation bill is a powerful signal. And just like they set aside their differences, I believe we in Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- must roll up our sleeves and get to work on a bipartisan bill.
With that goal in mind, I have reached across the aisle in the Senate and the House of Representatives to find common ground. Senator Inhofe and I are working together to develop a surface transportation authorization bill that can gain bipartisan support and provide much-needed investment.
I have also had discussions with Rep. John Mica, Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who is my counterpart in the House of Representatives. Next Wednesday, this Committee and the Transportation Committee will hold a joint Senate-House hearing in Los Angeles on transportation needs and proposals to get the economy back on track through infrastructure investment.
I was very pleased that Chairman Mica suggested holding the hearing in Los Angeles because Los Angeles has been a leader in figuring out a way to leverage funds – and leveraging is crucial in these tough times. LA’s 30/10 Initiative, which is a model for the nation, will improve the local economy by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, reduce carbon pollution emissions, and ease traffic congestion.
The 30/10 Initiative would speed up delivery of the transit projects funded by a local sales tax measure passed by the people of LA so those projects can be funded over 10 rather than 30 years, hence the name "30/10 initiative."
In essence, the federal government would front-load the funds, knowing that the revenues are coming to repay the Treasury at virtually no risk to federal taxpayers.
I have been looking at changes to part of the existing transportation law called the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act -- also known as TIFIA – to support this type of leveraging.
TIFIA helps communities leverage their transportation resources by providing loans and loan guarantees. According to the Federal Highway Administration, every dollar made available through TIFIA can mobilize up to a total of $30 in transportation investments.
I am pleased to report that there is growing bipartisan, business and community support for an expansion of TIFIA and other programs that stretch the dollars we have available for these important projects in these challenging economic times.
The need for a surface transportation bill is real. Our nation’s transportation systems used to be the best in the world, but investments have not kept up with needs, and now we are falling behind. The rest of the world is building infrastructure systems to move people and goods – and so must we.
There is a huge backlog of needed highway and transit improvements, and the list is growing every day. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure graded the nation’s infrastructure a “D” based on 15 categories, and stated that the nation needs to invest approximately $2.2 trillion from 2009 through 2014 to maintain our national infrastructure in a state of good repair.
Surface transportation improvements will also create jobs in the construction industry, which has been especially hard hit by the economic downturn. The construction industry lost 32,000 jobs in the past month, 130,000 jobs in the past year, and today there are nearly 1.9 million unemployed construction workers in the United States.
As Raymond Poupore, Executive Vice President of the National Construction Alliance II, pointed out at our last hearing, we could fill nearly 20 stadiums the size of Cowboy Stadium, where the Super Bowl was played recently, with unemployed construction workers – for a total of nearly 2 million people.
This created such a powerful image in my mind that I wanted to share it with you. It explains why we are here today.
(Note: Charts of 20 stadiums containing a total of 2 million people were displayed)
I thank my Republican colleagues for letting us use their space to tell this story of pain and unemployment in the construction and other sectors, in large part due to the housing crunch. We can begin to address this serious problem by making the kind of transportation investments this country needs for our economic recovery and long term prosperity.
Putting Americans back to work and providing new business opportunities helps everyone. As Mr. Trumka and Mr. Donohue pointed out, we have a common goal – investing in America. We have an opportunity to move forward on a robust surface transportation bill for the 21st century. Now is the time, and I am confident that we can do it.
I look forward to hearing today from two leaders who have come together in a rare show of unity in support of investment in America, and I thank them both.
2010 was a tough election and many of us found ourselves on different sides. But for everything there is a season – election season comes soon enough but now we have an obligation to work together for the American people – for jobs, for business and for our nation. Again, thank you both.
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