Brooke Wisdom

April 1, 2010

Time for a new deal

By Kerry L. Clines, Senior Editor

Now that Congress has passed the HIRE Act and transferred $19.5 billion into the Highway Trust Fund to stabilize infrastructure spending for the rest of 2010, it’s time to get to work on a multi-year transportation bill. Stop-gap measures won’t provide the long-term investment needed to create sustainable economic improvement and address the 20-percent unemployment plaguing the construction industry.

As the President said, “In any consideration of the problem of unemployment, it must be borne in mind that the program adopted to meet it must be envisioned to extend over a considerable period of time. The reason for this is that the nation, in common with the entire world, is undergoing a process of economic readjustment… Until our economic machinery can be realigned to meet present-day conditions, the problem of unemployment will persist and the measures adopted to deal with it must, therefore, be thought out and their operation planned to extend well into the future.”

Of course, this was not President Barrack Obama. It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he addressed Congress in 1939 regarding the subject of unemployment and the federal work relief programs. The themes Roosevelt raised through his New Deal, however, have long inspired Obama — who mirrored his first 100 days in office after FDR. They have also gained the support of the Conference of Mayors.

During a winter leadership meeting, the Conference of Mayors indicated that it believes FDR’s New Deal programs may be the key to improving economic conditions in their communities. In particular, it highlighted the Works Progress Administration.

As the mayors were in Washington, D.C., pushing for passage of the jobs bill, Schenectady (New York) Mayor Brian Stratton noted that, “A lot of the infrastructure in Schenectady was funded with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds in the 1930s, and you can see the WPA stamps in many of our sidewalks, parks, and pools. This is the type of commitment we need from Congress for America’s cities — this kind of significant investment that will give us the funding we need to reinvest in our cities and in our crumbling infrastructure.”

Congress has a tradition of hemming and hawing over transportation reauthorization. The last bill came after 12 extensions and 680 days. The construction industry and the nation cannot afford such hesitation on the next bill. If in doubt, today’s legislators need only look to their peers from the 1930s. They should consider the wisdom of their counterparts in local communities; after all, the mayors have a much better view of Main Street. Finally, they should consider the impact of significant infrastructure investment not only on 20 percent of American construction workers who are unemployed, but the rest of Americans who want and need a national infrastructure system worthy of the phrase: Made in the U.S.A.

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