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Boxer Changes Her Tone, Adopts a Fighting Stance

The transportation bill conference committee negotiations have been difficult and contentious, by all accounts — all except Senator Barbara Boxer’s account. The EPW chair has been optimistic when others have been bitter, consistently focusing on how much the two sides agree rather than the places where they’re still far apart.

Barbara Boxer sharpened her rhetoric yesterday about the House Republicans' foot-dragging on a transportation bill. Photo: Tanya Snyder.

But that seemed to change with her fighting words at a press event yesterday.

“I’ll be candid,” she said. “There is only one group standing in the way of a bill, standing in the way of three million jobs, standing in the way of thousands and thousands of businesses struggling right now — and those are the House Republicans.”

The seven other senators who joined her at the podium used even stronger words. New York Democrat Chuck Schumer decried the “militants, radicals, and extremists” among the House Republicans — not all Republicans, he was careful to note — who don’t believe the federal government should even be involved in building transportation infrastructure.

Do the math, said Sen. John Kerry. Every billion dollars invested in infrastructure yields an estimated 27,000 to 35,000 jobs. This is a $109 billion bill — “that’s several million jobs.” He echoed a point Schumer had made, that the economy is recovering but is being held back by lingering high unemployment in the construction sector. “Those folks would go to work tomorrow if this bill were passed,” Kerry said, adding that it was “an utter disgrace that people would say they’re with the American people and then refuse a bill that would put them back to work.”

“Where’s the speed bump? Where’s the road block?” asked Delaware’s Chris Coons. “It’s right there,” he said, pointing to the southern wing of the Capitol building, “in the House of Representatives.”

The senators were joined by a convoy of five large construction trucks behind them (breaking DC’s three-minute idling law), symbolizing the idling construction sector, one assumes.

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Five Ex-Secretaries Map Out a Communications Strategy For Transportation

Former Transportation Secretaries Mary Peters, James Burnley, Rodney Slater, Samuel Skinner, and Norman Mineta participated in the conference that produced a report and communications strategy. Photo from Miller Center.

If 80 percent of the American people agree that federal infrastructure investment will create jobs, and two-thirds say better infrastructure is important, why is the call for a robust transportation bill being made in whispers? And why is Congress already two and a half years late in producing one?

There are many political reasons — from the earmark ban to wariness of “Bridge to Nowhere” projects to the anti-spending frenzy that’s taken over the House — that it’s been a tough time to pass a transportation bill. But five former U.S. Secretaries of Transportation have said that the voice for change has to be louder. They released a report yesterday, with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, calling for a new communications strategy. (See “Is Transpo Funding Fundamentally a PR Problem? Five Ex-DOT Chiefs Discuss,” Dec. 2, 2011, for more on the conference the report is based on.)

The communications strategy is both visionary and tactical. Its more nuts-and-bolts elements include social networking campaigns and election-year news hooks to bring attention to the issue and make candidates talk about infrastructure.

The strategy is aimed at both leaders and the public. After all, both say they want better transportation infrastructure (and the jobs that will be created to build it), but no one wants to pay for it. The American people haven’t woken up to that contradiction. “Seventy-one percent of voters oppose an increase in the federal gas tax,” the Miller Center report says, “with majorities likewise opposing a tax on foreign oil, the replacement of the gas tax with a per-mile-traveled fee, and the imposition of new tolls to increase federal transportation funding.”

That’s a pretty comprehensive list of funding mechanisms, and the public has rejected them all. Part of a communications strategy, therefore, has to explain to the American people – not just about transportation but about all government services – that you can’t get something for nothing.

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Friday Job Market

Looking to hire a smart, qualified person for a position in transportation planning, engineering, IT, or advocacy? Post a listing on the Streetsblog Jobs Board and reach our national audience of dedicated readers.

Looking for a job? Here are this week’s listings:

Membership Manager, Transportation Alternatives, New York, NY
The Membership Manager will be responsible for developing and leading membership drives and executing events and outreach strategies to significantly grow Transportation Alternatives’ membership base.

External Communications and Marketing Manager, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, New York, NY
This position will help lead ITDP’s external communications, including public relations and social media, as the organization scales up its efforts to address climate change, poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

Communications Manager, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Washington, DC
The coalition is seeking a person with a passion for advocacy, writing, and making a difference in the Washington D.C. region to join a team that makes a real difference on smart growth issues in and around our Nation’s Capital  – from saving Metro to creating bicycle and pedestrian-friendly communities and protecting open space.

Principal Planner, Modeling/GIS, San Francisco County Transportation Authority, San Francisco, CA
The Transportation Planner Series-Technology Services Division includes three levels of professional Transportation Planners who prepare complex travel demand forecasting model applications for planning studies; maintain the model; and manage the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database.

Youth Cycling Instructor, Bike New York, New York, NY
Bike New York works with established youth organizations to teach basic bike handling and traffic safety skills to young cyclists and to lead rides in New York City Parks and Greenways. The organization is seeking instructors who can teach in either the spring after-school program, the summer camp program, or both.

Bike Fleet Manager, Bike New York, New York, NY
Bike New York’s education department seeks an energetic, organized person with bike maintenance and bike mechanic skills to manage a growing bike fleet and Community Bicycle Education Centers. In 2012, Bike New York’s eight Community Bicycle Education Centers will house a total of nearly 300 bicycles.

Business Networking Intern, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, San Francisco, CA
Gain valuable business networking experience while promoting bicycling to San Francisco businesses. Because the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is the primary organizer for San Francisco’s Bike to School Day and Bike to Work Day, you will have the opportunity to help execute these citywide events coordinating hundreds of volunteers.

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Thursday Job Market

Looking to hire a smart, qualified person for a position in transportation planning, engineering, IT, or advocacy? Post a listing on the Streetsblog Jobs Board and reach our national audience of dedicated readers.

Looking for a job? Here are this week’s listings:

Grassroots and Outreach Fellow, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Anywhere
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership is seeking a Grassroots and Outreach Fellow to grow the Safe Routes to School movement at the local level and engage them in grassroots advocacy. This opportunity will provide fellows with hands-on experience in coalition-building and grassroots lobbying.

StreetsMedia Development Intern, StreetsMedia, New York City
We are seeking a StreetsMedia Development Intern for Winter-Spring 2012. StreetsMedia is the online advocate for better transportation, smarter cities, and urban sustainability, and includes Streetsblog and Streetfilms. StreetsMedia is currently diversifying our funding strategy and the intern will play an integral part in supporting this effort.

Bicycle Valet Coordinator, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, San Francisco
The SF Bicycle Coalition is looking for a highly motivated, talented individual to manage the Coalition’s world famous Valet Bicycle Parking program.

Safety Educator, New York City Department of Transportation, New York City
Safety educators serve as a traffic safety outreach program coordinator/educator, conducting and assisting with the development of a variety of traffic safety educational presentations and creative art and theater projects for children, youth and older adults. Multiple positions available.

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Is Transpo Funding Fundamentally a PR Problem? Five Ex-DOT Chiefs Discuss

How can you convince Americans that transportation is important enough to invest in?

That’s the question that brought together five former U.S. Transportation Secretaries this week at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

Former DOT Chief James Burnley took a swipe at Transportation Enhancements and the stimulus.

James Burnley was deputy secretary and then secretary under President Reagan. He took the position that “75 percent” of the public “gives the thumbs down to paying more for transportation” because we’re giving them the wrong argument about why it matters. He took a jab at President Obama’s stimulus program:

We have to stop treating transportation infrastructure as a short-term jobs program. It didn’t work by any conventional definition of what “working” means. We all knew –those of us who have expertise in the field – it would not work in terms of short-term stimulus.

Because it takes time – it takes years for that money to actually be spent and people to be hired. We need to convince the American people that we need to invest in transportation infrastructure because we need to invest in transportation infrastructure. If we sell that idea – not as a jobs program, but because it affects the ability of our economy to grow over time, our international competitiveness and all the other things that we believe it affects, then we’ve got a fighting shot at convincing the American people that the resources that we believe ought to be devoted to transportation should be devoted to it.

That’s a legitimate point, and Streetsblog has made the same argument – that selling transportation as a jobs program undersells the true value of transportation. But there are a few problems with what Burnley is saying. First, when asked to tax themselves at the local or state level for transportation improvements, 75 percent of voters say yes. So maybe the case isn’t so hard to make after all.

And second, most Republicans – and many Democrats – fault the stimulus for not investing enough in infrastructure. Not quite seven percent of the package was devoted to infrastructure, and many critics say that’s why the stimulus didn’t do more to create jobs. Certainly, the president’s desire for “shovel-ready” projects may have been naïve, which Obama himself has publicly admitted. But Burnley may have been over-simplifying things with his statement.

Meanwhile, Sam Skinner, who served under President George H.W. Bush, argued that too many bridges to nowhere have eroded public confidence. And it’s not just transportation, he said – government mishandling of Medicare and pensions and everything else leads to overall distrust that the government can handle anything at all, despite the fact that the transportation department has proven that it “actually can complete projects under budget and on time.”

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Is the House Democrats’ New “Buy America” Jobs Bill Just a Political Ploy?

With no movement on a highway bill from House T&I Chairman John Mica until after Congress reconvenes in January, Ranking Member Nick Rahall held a press conference today to introduce the “Invest in American Jobs Act of 2011” [PDF]. The act would strengthen the “Buy America” requirements already in place on transit, rail, highway, bridge, and aviation programs.

This streetcar was made in Oregon, but will transit suffer under a Democratic mandate to buy all components stateside? Photo: Seattle Transit Blog

Among the bill’s stipulations:

  • 100 percent of components and subcomponents of transit rolling stock must be made in the US by fiscal year 2016 (currently a 60 percent requirement, to be raised incrementally)
  • Amtrak would lose its exemption from Buy America on projects under $1 million
  • Any exemptions to Buy America sought will be subject to a period of public comment and must be reported to the Secretary of Transportation

It also seeks to eliminate loopholes for segmented or subcontracted projects like the east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Rahall specifically cited the bridge, the largest public works project in California’s history, as having been built using 43,000 tons of Chinese steel—“Made in China, but paid for by American taxpayers.”

The bill is the latest in a growing list of job-creation proposals and counter-proposals to come from either the President or Congress. And like those prior proposals, this one is unlikely to go very far.

Think of it as the Democrats’ answer to “drilling-for-infrastructure” (maybe “regulation-for-protectionism”?). While representatives from the AFL-CIO, United Steel Workers, and United Streetcar threw their support behind the bill at the announcement, a Republican House pushing to de-regulate everything will be unlikely to get behind a Democratic proposal to create additional regulatory burdens – and costs – for industry.

Indeed, it’s easy to read the bill as a mere political maneuver. Rather than letting the Republicans claim credit for introducing a transportation bill they’re overtly touting as a jobs-creator — and then letting them blame Democrats for refusing to pass it — the Democrats are trying to get out in front with their own unpassable jobs-and-transportation bill.

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Two Infrastructure Jobs Bills Die in Senate

Two competing versions of a transportation-related job creation bill went down yesterday in the Senate. The first, the Rebuild America Jobs Act (S.1769), was a Democratic proposal, modeled on President Obama’s job creation bill, to invest $50 billion for infrastructure and another $10 billion as seed money to create a new national infrastructure bank.

Bills to put unemployed construction workers back on the job keep going down in Congress.

Given Republican opposition to what they consider a repeat of a failed stimulus – and to an infrastructure bank they say is unnecessary at best and politicized at worst — the failure of the bill is no surprise. The bill garnered a slim majority — 51-49 — but not enough to overcome the threat of a GOP filibuster.

Meanwhile, the Republican proposal would have pushed back many health, safety, and environmental regulations that corporations consider onerous. Defeated in a 47-53 vote, the bill also would have extended SAFETEA-LU for two more years — nearly matching the length and spending levels in the bipartisan EPW proposal — without funding the shortfall such spending would cause to the Highway Trust Fund. The bill wouldn’t have been a “clean” extension of current law, though, since it eliminated the “set-aside” for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, making it the fourth attempt in less than two months by Senate Republicans to eliminate or weaken TE — and the fourth failure.

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Friday Job Market

Looking to hire a smart, qualified person for a position in transportation planning, engineering, IT, or advocacy? Post a listing on the Streetsblog Jobs Board and reach our national audience of dedicated readers.

Looking for a job? Here are this week’s listings:

Senior Associate, Transportation Policy, Center on Wisconsin Strategy, Madison, WI
In 2010 COWS launched the State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI). Current transportation policy and practices are draining public budgets, degrading the environment, worsening inequality, retarding competitiveness, and failing most measures of efficient democratic government project on transportation reform. SSTI aims to reform current U.S. transportation policy and practice from the “ground” of state and local transportation decisions up.

DC Regional Policy Manager, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Washington, DC
The Washington D.C. Policy Manager will build and maintain a regional network in the area comprising the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG). The goal is to increase funding and improve policies which result in more infrastructure and programs to support safe walking and bicycling for children and families, especially lower-income communities most vulnerable to childhood obesity.

Bay Area Regional Policy Manager, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Oakland, CA
The Bay Area Policy Manager will build and maintain a regional network in the nine-county Bay Area within the jurisdictions of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). The goal is to increase funding and improve policies which result in more infrastructure and programs to support safe walking and bicycling for children and families, especially lower-income communities most vulnerable to childhood obesity.

Southern California Regional Policy Manager, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Los Angeles, CA
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership is looking for two (2) energetic and dynamic professionals to work as full-time Regional Policy Managers in the Southern California region. The goal is to increase funding and improve policies which result in more infrastructure and programs to support safe walking and bicycling for children and families, especially lower-income communities most vulnerable to childhood obesity at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (SCAG and SANDAG) level as well as at the County Transportation Commission level (CTC).

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Will New Infrastructure Funding Survive the Demise of Obama’s Jobs Bill?

Tuesday night, the Senate blocked a vote on the president’s jobs plan. As had been forecast, Republicans voted unanimously against the plan, and they weren’t alone: Two Democrats joined them – Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Now it’s on to Plan B, which involves breaking up the bill into pieces to be voted on separately.

Sen. Schumer's plan to salvage the jobs bill wouldn't resuscitate plans for $50 billion in transportation spending. Photo: AP

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has proposed narrowing the bill down to two parts – one favored by Democrats, the other by Republicans. Under the plan, an infrastructure bank would be created in the model endorsed by the president and the Kerry-Hutchison BUILD Act. In exchange, there would be a tax holiday for corporations to bring back to the U.S. profits they made overseas.

Obama’s bill had also called for a $50 billion investment in transportation infrastructure, and that appears to be dead as the Senate pursues Schumer’s plan. The House had dismissed the transportation component long ago, with Republican leadership saying they might hold a vote on the pieces of the bill that appeal to them (surprise — stimulus spending isn’t one of them). Meanwhile, some insiders say that Republicans in the House are getting serious about passing a transportation reauthorization before March 31 so that they can show that they, too, are serious about job creation.

Of course, the path they seem to be setting out on involves paying for a higher level of transportation spending with oil drilling, a proposal that’s sure to run up against massive Democratic opposition and possibly even a presidential veto.

And many think that not much is going to happen on any of this until the super committee comes back with its proposals for deficit reduction before Thanksgiving.

Back to the Schumer jobs plan: We’ve written a lot, and will be writing more, about the pros and cons of an infrastructure bank. But what about this idea of repatriating overseas profits?

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McConnell Spoiling For a Fight Over Jobs Bill, House Passes Budget Extension

Amid prognostications that the jobs bill is “dead” — including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s announcement that the House won’t vote on the bill in its entirety — Senate Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell said today that he’s just itching for a vote on the Senate floor.

Yes, it’s a tactic to make Obama look bad.

McConnell knows that the Democrats don’t have the votes yet to pass the bill in the Senate. He says he’s tired of the president blaming the Republicans for inaction, when no one benefits more from gridlock than the White House.

“How else do explain the fact that the president’s spent the past few weeks running around the country demanding that Congress pass his so-called Jobs Bill ‘right away’ even as leading members of his own party admit that Democrats wouldn’t have the votes to get it through Congress even if it came to the floor?” McConnell said.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, for his part, says he’s “disappointed” in McConnell for “playing games.” Reid says he’s planning to bring up the bill this month.

In other Congressional news, the House easily passed a “continuing resolution” to fund the government for six more weeks. And what will happen in six weeks? Another continuing resolution, you can be sure!

Congress has moved forward on some budget bills for FY2012 (which has already begun), but the pace has been lackadaisical. After all, there never was a real budget for FY2011, just a warmed-over FY2010 budget with a lot of bites taken out of it. And if you’ve been paying attention to the Congressional stalemating that got the country’s credit rating reduced, you probably know that the outlook isn’t much better for this year.