Obama to press for transportation funding as a job-creation tool

President Obama will press Monday for more transportation funding in order to create jobs for the middle class.

The White House is stressing that his plan for a $50 billion infusion for federal transportation projects will provide new jobs for the middle class in the short term and have a long-term benefit throughout the economy.

Senior administration officials previewing Obama’s Monday message said that most new infrastructure jobs would be in the construction sector, where the jobless rate is 17 percent, far higher than the overall national rate of 9.6 percent.

“The unemployed resources we have would make now an ideal time to invest in infrastructure,” one of the officials said.

A report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers argued that infrastructure investment could help all Americans since the average family spends $8,600 on transportation every year, which is a third more than it spends on food.

The report noted that current infrastructure spending won’t be enough to maintain the existing system. Federal infrastructure spending is equal to 2 percent of the country’s economy, which is half of what it spent in the 1960s. Americans are also less satisfied with the country’s transportation system than people in other developed countries. Among the 32 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States ranks 25th in satisfaction when it comes to public transit and 17th on roads and highways.

Obama first called for the $50 billion infusion in transportation money on Labor Day, along with a new national infrastructure bank to finance projects and business tax credits to spur private investment. The $50 billion would be part of a more comprehensive, six-year transportation effort for road, rail and transit projects.

The administration has yet to lay out details of the six-year plan, but has proposed that the $50 billion portion be paid for by ending tax breaks for oil and gas companies. Senior House Democrats had pushed last year for more infrastructure spending but couldn't come up with a way to pay for a long-term plan. Past multiyear surface transportation bills have been funded by raising the gas tax, a move the administration has been hesitant to back.

Obama will be joined by two former Transportation secretaries, Norman Mineta and Samuel Skinner, at the White House on Monday to tout his transportation plan. Mineta, who served for President Clinton and President George W. Bush, and Skinner, who served under President George H.W. Bush, recently released their own report calling for at least $134 billion annually to maintain the current transportation system.