Saint Paul, Minnesota is far from a whistle stop. But its newly renovated Union Depot train station (http://www.uniondepot.org) was the setting for President Obama’s speech on February 26, proposing a $302 billion four-year plan to raise money for the Highway Trust Fund and to increase federal spending on infrastructure.
The elegantly restored depot, a hub of transportation options ranging from bicycles to riverboats, provided an environment of optimism for a key topic: keeping the trust fund solvent, despite predictions that it may run out later this year.
President Obama began with praise for the Union Depot renovation, then shared his concern for Minnesota native and former Vice President Walter Mondale, recovering from heart surgery following the loss of his wife. (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/former-vice-president-walter-mondale-undergoes-heart-surgery-n29181)
While he mentioned the nation’s aging bridges, the president’s comments about the state of American infrastructure tactfully omitted any reference to the deadly I-35W bridge collapse in neighboring Minneapolis on August 1, 2007. Among those in attendance whom the President recognized was longtime friend R.T. Rybak, who had been mayor of Minneapolis at the time of the disaster. Rybak was instrumental in swiftly replacing the span.
The president credited the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul with “helping to create new jobs and new opportunities for every American.” He emphasized job creation and better wages as a major benefit of rebuilding efforts, saying “… one of the fastest and best ways to create good jobs is by rebuilding America’s infrastructure — our roads, our bridges, our rails, our ports, our airports, our schools, our power grids. We’ve got a lot of work to do out there, and we’ve got to put folks to work.”
Obama specifically referred to the construction industry, in which jobs once lost to the housing bubble bursting could be replaced by public projects. Of construction workers, he said that “too many are still looking for jobs at a time when we’ve got so much that we could put them to work on rebuilding.”
Obama called for support from both sides of the aisle for corporate tax reform, as a source for the Highway Trust Fund.
“We’ll pay for these investments in part by simplifying the tax code. We’re going to close wasteful tax loopholes, lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home, stop rewarding companies for sending jobs to other countries, use the money we save in this transition to create good jobs with good wages rebuilding America,” he said.
The tax reform provision of the president’s proposal is an alternative to increasing federal fuel taxes, and is meant to create $150 billion for the trust fund over a four-year period.
President Obama also announced a commitment of $600 million more to the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, an infrastructure spending competition that allows state and local governments to apply for funding of infrastructure projects. The renovation of Union Depot, which will resume rail service this year, was funded by a 2009 TIGER grant, part of the stimulus act. (Communities interested in TIGER grants can learn more at http://www.dot.gov/tiger.)
The president further urged Congress to complete work on the transportation bill, warning that “If Congress doesn’t finish a transportation bill by the end of the summer, we could see construction projects stop in their tracks, machines sitting idle, workers off the job.”
For the text of this speech, see http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/02/26/text-obama-speech-union-depot.