AFL-CIO, Chamber agree: Not enough spending in House transportation bill

One of the nation's largest labor unions and one of the biggest groups in the business lobby reached rare consensus on the proposed surface transportation bill put forward Thursday by Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), each saying it was not large enough.

Mica unveiled a long-awaited draft of a six-year the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU, transportation bill. But he proposed spending $230 billion over that period, which was less than both the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce would like to see spent on transportation.

"There is no debate that our nation faces not only a serious jobs crisis but also crumbling roads, transit, bridges, and other public transportation infrastructure that threaten our economic future," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. "And so it is astonishing and unconscionable that the House Republican leadership would push a surface transportation re-authorization bill that would gut current infrastructure investment by a third and obliterate over half a million jobs in the next year alone.

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"This proposal prescribes a grim reality at a time when 14 million Americans who want to work cannot find jobs and our nation suffers a $2.2 trillion infrastructure deficit," Trumka continued. "It defies imagination that the Republican leadership and Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would turn their backs on the needs of our country and pretend it is good government. The evisceration of funding for much needed infrastructure improvements is a direct result of the Ryan budget proposal that passed earlier this year. If they’re listening to the American people at all, they will reject this job-killing proposal and do what’s right for our country."

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Janet Kavinoky agreed Mica's bill was limited by the budget passed by the Republican-led House earlier this year.

“We commend Chairman Mica on his new direction for surface transportation and the outline of changes that can deliver a more effective and efficient federal transportation program," Kavinoky said in statement. "We agree with the Chairman that ‘the American people want the federal government to ensure their hard-earned tax dollars are wisely and effectively invested in improvements for the nation’s infrastructure.’

"Unfortunately, while his legislation tracks the Chamber’s recommendations for reauthorization, it does not in terms of funding," she continued. "It is clear the Committee has been constrained by the House-passed budget as the investment levels are unacceptable. Cuts will destroy – rather than support — existing jobs and will not enable creation of the additional jobs needed to put the 16.3% of unemployed workers in the construction industry back to work."

Democrats lambasted the proposal Thursday, calling it "the Republican road to ruin."

"It takes our nation in the wrong direction, backwards instead of forwards," Rep. Nick Rahall, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said during a news conference. "Instead of putting America on a pathway to prosperity, this bill provides the necessary funds for transportation to half the country and tells the other half to wait around for the next time."

Mica has argued it would be unwise to spend more than the trust fund that pays for highway projects bring in, which is about $35 billion a year. The money could be leveraged using loans to about $75 billion a year, he added Wednesday.