Tonight, President Obama will declare 2014 “a year of action” to expand opportunities for the middle class. We can work with that.
Transportation unions are focused like a laser on rebuilding the economy and the middle class by modernizing and expanding our transportation system, and along the way rescuing millions of Americans caught in the economic riptide.
The fastest way to fuel job growth and simultaneously address the income inequality crisis the President will discuss tonight is to connect more people living in or near poverty to the job of modernizing our neglected transportation system and infrastructure. You see, according to recent analyses of the world’s infrastructure, America’s infrastructure barely cracks the Top 25. For you college basketball fans, Coach K would cringe.
The President has a chance to lay out a vision tonight and a majority in Congress has a chance to face down extremists, take a timeout from partisan bickering and lame austerity policies, and do what’s right for the nation.
Here’s a short list for that “year of action” we’ll hear about tonight.
We Can’t Expand Public Transit and our Highways With Fairy Dust. So as you slept last night, the fund that pays for our transit systems, highways and bridges moved a day closer to insolvency. That’s correct—in less than a year this fund will go broke. If your commutes are long now or if you struggle to get your goods to market, just wait until there’s no money for our transit systems and highways. This isn’t rocket science. Congress and Presidents have failed to increase the federal fuel tax for 20 years and more and more Americans are driving high fuel economy autos, and thus are buying less gas. Result: less money for transit and highways. The President must call for a bipartisan truce to end this crisis and find a long-term funding solution with all options on the table.
We Can’t Expand Air Travel With 1950s Technology. It is staggering that we still rely on technology that dates back to the first color TV to move the 70,000 flights daily in our skies. We can do better—in fact, we must do better and stare down those who would ruin our aviation system with reckless austerity measures. But it will take a long-term investment (yes, that’s federal money) in air traffic control modernization and in a well-trained staff at the FAA to operate, maintain and inspect our aviation system. It will also require our government to oppose aviation trade policies that would eliminate U.S.-controlled airlines and permit foreign airlines to defy trade agreements and scour the globe for the cheapest labor possible at the expense of U.S. aviation jobs. The President must advance a national aviation policy vision that is funded and executed and protects jobs here at home.
We Can’t Expand Amtrak Without Expanding its Budget. Just because President Obama has championed building out a high-speed rail network doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. The President is right that Americans want more train service, not less. That is why Amtrak keeps breaking its own ridership records every year. Of course that hasn’t stopped some from pushing Amtrak bankruptcy budgets and risky privatization and outsourcing initiatives and I suspect those efforts won’t stop. The President must send a clear message that his vision of high-speed train service for more Americans will fail without a long-term plan to fund Amtrak and give it a chance to modernize and succeed.
We Can’t Compete Globally with Aging Ports and a Declining U.S. Merchant Marine. Right now yet another mega-ship (the size of these things is staggering) may be diverted to a foreign port. Why? Because we aren’t modernizing our ports fast enough and today one-third of them can’t even receive these ships. Meanwhile, only 2% of the vessels traveling through U.S. ports are staffed with U.S. crews. This must change, especially since the Defense Department relies on U.S. mariners for sealift capacity to transport most of the military personnel and cargo, and humanitarian aid sent overseas. We will not lead the world economy if we don’t beef up our maritime sector and reject policies that are hollowing out the U.S. Merchant Marine at the expense of national security and defense. The President must make maritime transportation a national priority.
We Can’t Wish for Better Jobs and Higher Wages. It is no coincidence that as fewer Americans in this generation have enjoyed the power of strong unions and collective bargaining, the middle class has been shrinking. The solution to lifting millions back into the middle class is giving them a chance to bargain for better wages and retirement security through strong unions. President Reagan once said, “Where collective bargaining is forbidden, freedom is lost.” Labor Secretary Tom Perez told the nation last week, “Workers’ ability to form unions and engage in collective bargaining has been a cornerstone of a strong middle class.” The President has an opportunity to reaffirm his view that if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class, our labor policies must empower more working people to form and join unions.