Voinovich Has a Job-Creation Proposal for the President

Before leaving for Asia yesterday, President Obama announced a job creation summit to take place next month and declared himself "open to any demonstrably good idea" to cut the rising unemployment rate.

Voinovich_to_bow_out_at_end_of_term.jpgSen. George Voinovich (R-OH) (Photo: UPI)

Taking the president at his word, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) fired off a letter today with a suggestion: pass a long-term federal transportation bill by this coming spring.

"Investment in infrastructure will provide a firm foundation for future
economic growth, and address the current shortfall in the purchasing
power of federal transportation dollars under" the existing, four-year-old federal bill, Voinovich wrote.

Voinovich, a former governor, also revealed that four members of the "Big Seven," the groups that advocate for local and state governments at the federal level, are willing to support a gas tax increase to pay for the next six-year transport bill.

The letter is not a new move for Voinovich, who months ago backed House Democrats in their clash with the White House and Senate leaders over the timing of a new transportation measure.

But Voinovich acknowledged that the political landscape has shifted since the summer. His letter cites Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), a close Obama ally, as a recent voice in favor of quick action on infrastructure spending.

And while Voinovich has not sung from the same hymnal as the administration on the environment — he helped lead this month’s GOP boycott of votes on the Senate climate bill — today’s letter includes a nod to the emissions-reducing benefit of "investments in transit."

Check out his full letter after the jump.

Dear Mr. President,

I have recently heard you are planning to host a jobs summit in December.  I strongly believe that passing a surface transportation reauthorization bill is the best way to create jobs and provide an immediate stimulus for the economy.

Infrastructure spending is one of the most efficient economic investments the federal government can make.  Every dollar spent on infrastructure generates about $5.70 in economic activity, and every $1 billion invested creates roughly 47,500 jobs.  The construction industry in particular has been hit hard by the economic recession, and would benefit immensely from a transportation reauthorization bill.  According to the Department of Labor, the industry’s unemployment rate was 17.1 percent in the month of September.  In September alone, 64,000 construction jobs were lost.  In fact, since December of 2007, employment for the construction industry has fallen by 1.5 million jobs.  The economic benefits of a transportation reauthorization bill would be enormous and are desperately needed at this time.

Beyond the immediate economic stimulus of a transportation reauthorization bill, investment in our transportation system will provide long-term benefits such as reducing traffic congestion, improving the flow of freight, and saving lives through increased safety. Investment in infrastructure will provide a firm foundation for future economic growth, and address the current shortfall in the purchasing power of federal transportation dollars under SAFETEA-LU. Over the last five years, we have seen a 48 percent decrease in the purchasing power of federal transportation dollars, due in part to increasing fuel and construction material costs.  Because of this loss of purchasing power, most states were already short of funds when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed, and had to use the stimulus dollars to cover the shortfall. A second stimulus bill would be similarly inefficient, and would do little more than cover the shortfall in federal transportation dollar purchasing power, while adding to the federal deficit. However, passing a transportation reauthorization bill would address declining purchasing power of federal transportation dollars without increasing the deficit, as a reauthorization bill would be paid for with user fees.  For the past year, I have worked with a number of transportation and industry groups including the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the International Union of Operating Engineers, who have all pushed for a short term extension and a reauthorization bill, and have stepped forward to pay a 10 cent increase in the federal gas tax that would be indexed for each year of the reauthorization bill. I have also recently met with the Big Seven, and four of them, the National Association of Counties, the National Council of State Legislators, the Council of State Governments, and the National League of Cities, have endorsed a gas tax increase.

There are also significant environmental benefits to a surface transportation reauthorization bill.  Investments in transit and other congestion reduction projects have been shown to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation investments can also safeguard water quality by reducing pollution from storm water runoff. The next surface transportation bill will provide an opportunity to implement numerous programs to improve our environment.

I am not alone in arguing that a robust surface transportation reauthorization is critically important and must be undertaken as quickly as possible.  Senator Durbin in particular has echoed my calls for the swift passage of a reauthorization bill on a number of occasions.  In fact last month, Senator Durbin said, “My personal feeling is, we need more stimulus for job creation, and a highway authorization is the best way.”  Governor Ed Rendell seconded Senator Durbin’s comments, saying, “I don’t think we necessarily need a second stimulus, but I do think we should move forward on a transportation bill.”

I believe that a transportation reauthorization bill is critical to job creation, improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure, and reducing our carbon footprint.  A transportation reauthorization bill would be a three-fer.  Mr. President, your leadership is desperately needed now.  With your support, we can get the reauthorization done by spring of next year on a bipartisan basis.

Sincerely,

Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH)

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