The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 08, 2011

AFL-CIO, chamber link up for infrastructure bank bill

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON (PAI) – The AFL-CIO and its normal enemy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, joined together March 16 to back a bipartisan bill establishing a national infrastructure bank.

The bank would provide $10 billion in federal “seed money” to leverage $600 billion in private investment to build new airports, rail lines, roads and other projects.
An independent board would run it. Its combined funding would pay for water, transportation or energy projects worth at least $100 million each and of “national or regional significance,” without political criteria, a fact sheet says.

The emphasis on private investment in the Build Act is designed to overcome Tea Party-inspired resistance to any spending, sponsors said. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Mark Warner, D-Va., are pushing the bank.

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka had no formal statement at the introductory press conference, but told Press Associates March 17 he believes bipartisan support will pass the new legislation. If it is set up, the bank would fund projects that would employ thousands of building trades workers. Right now, 1.883 million construction workers (21.8%) are jobless.

Rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and reviving manufacturing by building “green job” factories are two key planks in the AFL-CIO’s program for restoring U.S. jobs and prosperity. The infrastructure plank is almost the only issue where the federation and the Chamber of Commerce agree. Chamber President Thomas Donohue was also at the press conference.

“This is a bipartisan moment to make a once bipartisan issue bipartisan once again,” Kerry said. The legislation setting up the bank will let it “create good jobs, strengthen our competitiveness, and do more with less.

“This bill breaks a partisan stalemate to get America back in the game. When you’ve got a Massachusetts Democrat, a Texas Republican, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO preaching from the same hymnal, you’ll find a sweet spot that can translate into a major legislative step forward,” Kerry declared.

Tea Party-inspired Republicans who dominate the House may be another story. Democratic President Barack Obama endorsed a five-year $556 billion extension of present transportation construction programs – roads, bridges and mass transit – funded by the federal gas tax. News reports say the Tea Party wants, at most, half of that. Independent engineers estimate the U.S. needs $2.2 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next five years just to keep present systems in adequate condition.