Obama’s Jobs speech: Mostly music to business interests

Not surprisingly perhaps, business lobbies are endorsing both the intent and scope of the multi-billion-dollar “jobs” pie that President Obama served up in a speech given at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, yesterday

Not surprisingly perhaps, business lobbies are endorsing both the intent and scope of the multi-billion-dollar “jobs” pie that President Obama served up in a speech given at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, yesterday.

The proposal that has caught fire with business leaders and state highway officials as well is what the President termed a “boost in investment in the nation's infrastructure beyond what was included in the Recovery Act, to continue modernizing our transportation and communications networks.”

According to a report in The New York Times, the President did not put a price on these proposals, but said the cost could be offset by some of the $200 billion in lower-than-expected spending on the earlier federal bailout of financial institutions. While he proposed increasing by an unspecified amount the stimulus spending aimed at rebuilding highways, railroads, airports and water projects, he also said he will seek $50 billion to leverage public and private investments to finance infrastructure projects.

“ These are needed public works that engage private sector companies, spurring hiring across the country,” the President stated. “Already, more than 10,000 of these projects have been funded through the Recovery Act. And by design, Recovery Act work on roads, bridges, water systems, Superfund sites, broadband networks, and clean energy projects will all be ramping up in the months ahead.”

Among the first interest groups to weigh in on the Presdient’s speech was the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). “We applaud the President's readiness to boost infrastructure spending,” said AASHTO executive director John Horsley. Certainly, if the Administration and the Congress want to create thousands of jobs quickly, the best way to do it is by investing in ‘ready-to-go’ transportation projects. We've seen how effectively states can deliver—25% of the jobs saved or created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are a direct result of the $48 billion allocated to transportation projects.”

According to Horsley, states have 9,500 “ready-to-go” transportation projects with a potential value of $70 billion that can proceed toward construction within 120 days of enactment after approval by the appropriate federal agency. “With the unemployment rate for construction workers at the alarming rate of 19.4% in November,” he added, “targeting construction jobs is sure to meet an enormous need.”

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), however, was less sanguine about the impact of the additional infrastructure spending. “We are encouraged by the President’s jobs pledge,” Ken Simonson, chief economist for AGC told FleetOwner. “There are plenty of construction workers ready to get back to work. However, the dollars (if actually allocated) won’t do a lot to change things when it comes to the amount of equipment used.”

But in a statement it released, the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) appears to support without reservation the President’s call for additional investment in transportation infrastructure as a way to stimulate jobs and economic growth.

ATA noted that the Federal Highway Administration estimates that each billion dollars invested in federal-aid highway projects generates approximately 30,000 jobs. “Therefore, this spending level could, in a very short time span, create at least 1.4-million good jobs, while also making our highways safer and less congested,” he trucking lobby argued.

ATA added that it is urging “Congress and the Obama Administration to expedite funding for ready-to-go highway projects while continuing to work toward quick passage of a long-term highway bill with robust funding for highway projects that yield significant national and regional economic benefits.”

And in an “open letter” to the President, Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that the Chamber would like “to lend our enthusiastic support to this week's White House jobs forum. No issue is more important to the American people right now than renewing our country's economic prosperity. We must have a laser focus on creating the jobs Americans want and need.”

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