September 2011

What government can do to create transit jobs

by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher

Because the unemployment rate has been stuck above 9 percent  — add in the underemployment rate and it's no less than double that, according to many reports - the president addressed a joint session of Congress. While we don't know exactly what he said at press time, what he said in his weekly Internet video the weekend before was right on. You want an effective jobs bill? Pass a long-term transportation bill.

Left and right ideas
Some on the left think the answer is to force businesses to keep jobs here by some sort of artificial "pay to play" mandate and one proposal they'd like to see passed is called "Make it In America." Part of this proposal calls for 100 percent content requirements in all public transportation vehicles, a level that is presenting a nightmare for those in the high-speed rail program, where such a mandate is part of the stimulus legislation — and where even longstanding U.S. brands in bus engines and transmissions probably would not meet, if it were extended to transit.

Some on the right think that a 35 percent cut in the current federal public transportation program can be filled with public-private partnerships (P3s) and looser environmental and other rules. Although P3s can help, no responsible study suggests that it can provide enough private financing or cut enough costs to fill the gap that a one-third cut from current federal funding levels would mean. Faster project development and funding approvals would also clearly help, but again, not by that much.

The real job creator
The real job creator, of course, is what APTA and its business members have advocated for more than a decade: a stable, longer-term funding bill at current levels or better. Business leaders tell me these conditions will help them make confident decisions about new hiring and funding new R&D.

It will give them the confidence to seek opportunities here, not shift their resources to other countries or other industries. Many of these private-sector companies are multinational and most are in other lines of business as well. In fact, for most, public transportation is nowhere near to being their most important market.

As I've pointed out before, state and local voters get it and have already passed ballot propositions this year at a historic 70 percent-plus rate, including those with tax increases attached. Many of these, though, assume that the federal government will also contribute a fair share, and some want the feds to help with more agreeable loan terms that states and cities would pay back with the money local taxpayers voted to give them. It is time for our federal leaders to be part of the solution for more job creation and not part of the problem.


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