It’s Time to Rebuild America: Celebrate Infrastructure Week

It's Time to Rebuild America: Celebrate Infrastructure Week

Today we kick off Infrastructure Week 2014, which will explore funding solutions and best practices to modernize our aging infrastructure and create good midldle-class jobs. Events will be held from May 12–16 and will focus on: major infrastructure challenges, freight and goods movement, passenger transportation, drinking water and wastewater treatment. Events will be held around the country and details on specific events and locations, as well as the full agenda and registration information, are available online.

The week’s events are being put on by the AFL-CIO, the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, North America’s Building Trades Unions, the Council on Competitiveness, the Chamber of Commerce, the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, Building America’s Future, 1776, the Organization for International Investment, the Value of Water Coalition, the National Association of Manufacturers and dozens of otheraffiliate organizations.

A Jobs and Infrastructure rally will be held Thursday, May 15, at 1 p.m. at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C. RSVP on Facebook here.

You can follow the events on Twitter.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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For A Boston Where All Families Can Thrive, Vote Marty Walsh for Mayor

Since current Mayor Thomas Menino was elected in 1993, the city of Boston has seen incredible change. From West Roxbury to East Boston, entire industries have sprung up, fueled by innovation from the city’s world-renowned universities. Immigrants from across the globe have made their home in Boston, creating one of the nation’s most diverse communities.

Unfortunately, there has been another change: Boston has become much more unequal. The last 30 years have seen wealth in the city increasingly concentrated, and now the Boston area has greater inequality than 85 percent of U.S. metropolitan areas.

The central challenge for the next mayor is to ensure that Boston is a city where families in all communities can thrive; a place where the American Dream is reality, not just a part of proud history. That’s why Working America is proud to endorse State Representative Martin J. Walsh to be the next mayor of Boston.

Few elected officials are more attuned to the needs of Bostonians than Marty Walsh. As the son of Irish immigrants, Walsh understands the challenges of making a life in a new country. As a survivor of Burkett’s lymphoma, a form of childhood cancer that struck him at age seven, he knows personally the struggle to access affordable health care, and the value of Boston’s world-class medical treatment and research facilities.

As a union construction worker since the age of 18, Marty Walsh recognizes better than most elected officials the inherent dignity of a full day’s work at a good job with fair wages. At a time when the majority of jobs created are in notoriously low-wage sectors like service and retail – jobs that only recognize the dignity of corporate shareholders – a mayor with Walsh’s experience is needed now more than ever.

Walsh’s vision for the city is bold. He will expand access to affordable housing in the city, redouble the fight against unfair foreclosures, and even provide incentives for childcare facilities that are open during second and third shifts. From his time in legislature working on transportation issues, he is well-positioned to improve the MBTA public transit system, including pushing back the T’s infamous early closing hours. Not only does that give a boost to the city’s nightlife, it also helps Bostonians who work those later shifts make it home without breaking the bank.

Walsh has been an aggressive advocate for public education throughout his career. He plans to invest in early childhood education by doubling the number of K-1 seats and increase overall funding for public education. “My ultimate goal is to make Boston Public Schools so good there there is no need for alternatives,” he told the Boston Globe, “In the city where public education was invented, we should be as renowned for our public schools as we are for our institutions of higher learning.”

Making bold investments with a view toward the future is a Marty Walsh staple. It was key to the successful creation of Building Pathways, a pre-apprenticeship program focused on training women and people of color for careers in the building trades. At first, the program faced skepticism, even from within the union. “They kept talking about the past,” Walsh told Building Pathways’ April 2013 graduating class, “and I said this program’s going to be different.” By its fourth year, the program had such a strong reputation that 85 percent of participants had been placed at jobs prior to graduation.

Walsh’s ambitious pro-worker agenda has been met with resistance. The formerly Rupert Murdoch-owned Boston Herald, (which endorsed anti-worker candidates George W. Bush and Mitt Romney for president), offered a “rare non-endorsement” to Walsh, using divisive language straight out of the Scott Walker playbook. Similarly, various opponents in the crowded field have sought to use Walsh’s labor experience against him.

They should remember that from the laborers who built the skyline to the city’s heroic first responders, the men and women of the labor movement are an indelible part Boston; and that Boston workers, whether or not they have a union, benefit from higher wages and better benefits caused by labor’s influence. “I’m proud of my record with labor,” Walsh said at a debate, “I wear it as a badge of honor. I love supporting working class people and I’m proud of it.”

Sitting back and taking shots is easy. The politicians who take that route during the campaign are more likely to be passive in office as well, even as inequality in Boston becomes a chasm and affordable housing and good jobs are increasingly scarce.

With his working class background and firsthand experience as laborer, Marty Walsh knows that passivity is not acceptable. For a Boston where inequality is tackled head on, and for a city where all families can thrive, vote for Marty Walsh on Tuesday, November 5th.

Paid for by Working America. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. Photo by martywalshformayor on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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5 Signs of Hope for Working Families In Yesterday’s New York City Elections


City Council candidate Carlos Menchaca

Local and municipal elections matter.

Just ask a service worker in Philadelphia who can’t afford to take a sick day because the city council was one vote short of overriding Mayor Michael Nutter’s veto of a paid sick days ordinance.

Or ask a retail worker in Washington, D.C., where the City Council is currently one vote short of a veto-proof majority in favor the Large Retail Accountability Act (LRAA), which would establish a living wage for big box retail workers.

You can also ask anyone who sends their child to public school in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has closed dozens of public schools, and where the city’s students are being moved around like chess pieces to make room for a pro-corporate education “reform” agenda.

Yes, city leaders of both parties have been too willing lately to kowtow to corporate interests over the needs of their constituents. But in last night’s New York City primary, there were some signs of hope for working families.

 

1.) Voters approved of plan to raise taxes on super-rich to pay for schools. To succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the richest people on the planet and a staunch defender of rich people’s interests, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio ran on a plan to raise taxes on New Yorkers making $500,000 or more and using the revenue to establish universal Pre-K. The plan was derided by Bloomberg and much of the the city’s wealthy elite.

But yesterday, de Blasio took 40 percent in a crowded primary, a sign that some of the folks in NYC making less than $500,000 a year (roughly, shall we say, 99 percent?) favor balancing out our tax system to bolster basic services.

 

2.) Opposition to earned paid sick days was a liability. The longtime expected frontrunner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, saw her support recede and then evaporate over the summer. Partly, because she was seen as the main obstacle to a paid sick days ordinance for New York City. The ordinance was introduced in 2010 but Quinn refused to bring it to a vote, saying that it would put “undue burden” on NYC businesses, according to the New York Times.

It took three years of pushing from a broad coalition, including the Working Families Party and well-known activist Gloria Steinem, to finally get Quinn to compromise on a sick days ordinance, which sailed through with overwhelming support. Yet her long-held intransigence, which she never truly explained, hurt her in the race, particularly with woman voters.

“We were pleased the bill finally passed,” says Donna Dolan, Executive Director of the New York Paid Leave Coalition, “But all I could think about when I was at the press conference was the number of people I met who had been fired in the past three-and-a-half years.” Voters apparently agreed, giving the once-frontrunner Quinn a third place finish.

 

3.) The real estate lobby spent big money to beat a local labor leader, but he won anyway. In a crowded primary for the Queens-based 27th council district, I. Daneek Miller came out on top last night. Miller is president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056 and a supporter of affordable housing, so naturally the city’s powerful real-estate lobby was determined to stop him. A real-estate backed PAC spent $261,533 backing up one of Miller’s opponents, but Miller prevailed: the current count gives him a lead of 396 votes.

“There have been tough times for labor and working families,” Miller said last night, “The consensus is: we need a voice. Now we have that voice we set out to represent.”

 

4.) This 32 year-old won a huge upset in Brooklyn to become council’s first Mexican-American. Sara Gonzalez sat in Brooklyn’s 38th council district for decade, and regularly was a no-show at council meetings and public events. She may have expected a smooth reelection this time around. But Carlos Menchaca, a 32 year-old openly gay Latino community activist, unseated her last night by a 16-point margin. (“Men-shocka!” was the headline in The Brooklyn Paper.)

Menchaca will be the first openly gay elected official to represent Brooklyn and the first Mexican-American on the New York City Council. He was active with the Office of Emergency Management after Hurricane Sandy, especially in badly-damaged Red Hook.

“I’m going to be present. I’m going to be visible and vocal,” Menchaca told supporters last night, “I’m going to be someone that’s on the streets talking directly to the people of Sunset Park about your needs.”

 

5.) Pro-worker candidates won across the board. The New York Central Labor Council endorsed 43 candidates for City Council in run up to yesterday’s election. 39 of those candidates won outright last night, with two races (Kirsten John Foy in District 36 and Austin Shafran in District 5) still too close to call.

After 12 years of a Bloomberg Administration that was cold to outright hostile to New York’s labor community, it’s heartening to see advocates of working families have such a good night at the local level.

 
Bonus.) Dante de Blasio’s hair wins mayor’s race, observers say.

Check out this actual headline from USA Today. And this Twitter account. And this cartoon. We can’t remember the last time one person’s haircut played such a decisive role in an election.

What did you think of last night’s election? Let us know in the comments.

Photo of Carlos Menchaca by @lingene_1 on Twitter

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Without Public Transit, Getting Around on Minimum Wage Is Its Own Expensive Struggle

Friday was the final day of the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge, during which Minnesota Rep. Jason Metsa lived on a budget of $7.25 an hour for one week. Previously, Rep. Metsa made a budget, went grocery shopping, looked for housing, and met with Minnesotans who are living on minimum wage.

On his last day, Rep. Metsa’s challenge was to do something he usually took for granted: go home at the end of the week.

Metsa hails from the Iron Range, specifically Virginia, MN, and it’s about a three hour drive from the capital. On the budget he had set out at the beginning of the week, he had $268 a month for transportation. “Most people would have a car payment, but luckily I don’t, because my car is a ’99,” he told us.

He does have an insurance payment of $138 a month, which leaves him $32 a month for gas and maintenance; not enough even to get around on the metro during the work week and also get him home.

And then there’s maintenance. “I need an oil change, but there’s no way to do that on this budget,” Metsa commented. “Just before I started the Challenge, I put $1,800 into the car – on minimum wage I’d have to take out a payday loan to cover that. And that’s not ideal for a low-wage worker, with the high interest.”

It was sobering for Metsa that on a minimum wage budget, he’d literally have to take out a loan in order to make it home. “This budget has no room for mistakes, no room for an emergency, and it’s almost an extra job to make sure I’m spending each penny wisely,” he said.

“If I really was on minimum wage, I probably wouldn’t have a car,” Metsa continued, “I’d probably use the extra money to secure housing. Without housing, considering any other part of this budget is impossible.”

So without a car, Metsa would have to work either walking distance from his home or somewhere that was metro or bus accessible. This is feasible in St. Paul near his current job at the Minnesota House, but impossible in Virginia and other parts of the Iron Range (and much of the country) where adequate, affordable, public transit is nonexistent.

See more photos on Facebook here.

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It’s Our Job To Tell Her She Can Still Take Gymnastics

A beat-up van pulls to a stop just up the road. A creaky screen door opens from the apartment at the end of the building. A young African-American girl runs out toward the van, barely hanging onto a large gym bag that was obviously not meant for such a pint-sized carrier. The driver of the van, a middle-aged white man with glasses and a beard, throws the passenger door to the van open and the little girl tosses the bag onto the floor before climbing in. The apartment door, which had banged shut in the meantime, creaks open again as the girl’s mother waves goodbye.

“Be good. Have fun,” she tells her daughter.

“I’ll have her back by eight,” the driver replies as the little girl shuts the van door and waves goodbye to her mom.

As the van pulls away and disappears around a turn up the street, the girl’s mother allows herself to slump against the door frame for just a moment. She lets go of a long sigh that betrays just how tired she is. She almost doesn’t notice me as I approach her door to introduce myself.

I ask her how she’s doing. I tell her I’m out in the community tonight with Working America to gather support for public education in Pennsylvania.

Even if you don’t live here, you probably know the story. Governor Tom Corbett and his allies in the legislature have cut nearly a billion dollars from public education, hiked tuition at state universities up to 40 percent, and pushed a voucher plan that will further gut public schools. I don’t have to tell this young mother.

“I know,” she says. She glances in the direction of the van’s departure. “My daughter does gymnastics after school. Loves it. They told us they’ll probably have to cut back next year.” She pauses a moment, perhaps considering just what that means. “I can’t afford to send her to a private dance studio. What’s she going to think when I tell her she just has to quit? What are any of our kids going to do after school when they cut all these programs?”

I can tell there’s another question she’s probably too proud to ask, which is, “What am I going to do when there’s no more gymnastics class?” She works all day. She obviously came home and made sure her daughter had dinner and did her homework and had everything ready for the gym. The long sigh as the van pulled away and the moment she allowed herself to rest against the door frame were the first moments she’d had to herself all day. I feel bad for interrupting it.

But she is more than eager to help. She signs up to become a member of our fight for Pennsylvania’s public schools. She writes out a letter by hand telling her state senator what she had just finished telling me. She asks him what she’s supposed to tell her daughter when she can’t send her to gymnastics anymore.

And then she thanks me. Wishes me luck. I can only thank her and tell her we’ll be doing all we can to make sure that’s a question she never has to answer.

As I walk away, I wonder if “all we can” will be enough and if it will be in time for this proud, tired woman and her energetic, hopeful little girl.

This is just one story that I have to share from my first week in training to be a field organizer for Working America. The office is an hour’s drive from where I’m currently living and I’ll probably have to move for the second time in a year to keep at it. But the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard in just my first week of training have convinced me that it’s the absolute right decision. I’ve spent too much time reading from books and pondering the possibilities. It’s time to get on the ground and join in the fight. And it’s a fight we absolutely have to win.

One street over from the mother and her little girl, I pass by building after building of empty apartments. Many have huge padlocks on doors decorated with the faded, tattered remains once brightly-colored utility shut off warnings and notices. Some of the windows are boarded up, but through the broken ones you can see the evidence of a place long abandoned. Paint peeling off the walls. Piles of trash on the floor. A broken stair. But this place was abandoned long before the apartments were empty.

I am surprised as the first door in a long time actually opens. A middle-aged white woman tells me her story.

She’s about to lose her job. Not because she’s lazy or incompetent or because she’s unwilling to work. She’s about to lose her job because she can no longer get to work.

It’s not just education that’s being cut here. They already cut back on mass transit. This small, previously middle-class community no longer has bus service.

“I don’t have a car,” she says. “Always took the bus to work.” She’s done things “the right way.” She never asked for a government handout. She worked at a low-wage job to support herself. It was enough for a small apartment and to pay the bills, but it wasn’t enough to buy a car – let alone afford the state mandated insurance payments on one on top of it. She’s been getting rides from friends or family when she can now, but she’s already missed work several times. Now her boss is saying she’s “unreliable.” She confesses she probably doesn’t have much time before she joins the ranks of the unemployed.

She, too, is very helpful. She signs onto our fight for education and good jobs and quality healthcare, even though she says she doesn’t believe it will change anything. She, too, writes a letter to her state senator. She, too, thanks me before I can thank her.

I’m touched as I walk away. I know this is a battle we have to fight even if we lose. I shudder at the thought of walking down this same street a month or a year from now and seeing a padlock on this woman’s door.

A few nights later, in a neighborhood consisting of streets lined with small suburban houses with well-kept front yards and even tiny little back yards where neighbors still gather together on front porches or out on their lawns, one could see the planted battle flags of the plutocracy in the “for sale” and “foreclosure” signs stamped into the yards of houses that are now empty. Fewer padlocks here, of course, and more spread out. Perhaps I should have done an accurate statistical tally. One in fifteen houses, maybe? Perhaps on the way to one in ten? After all, I talked with several people who had been laid off and were nearing the end of their unemployment benefits. No new jobs to be found, at least not jobs that could keep up with a house payment. And no, we’re not talking about people who went out and bought McMansions with loans they could never have paid back. We’re talking about very modest middle-class homes affordable on modest middle-class incomes. We’re talking the stuff of the old American Dream.

These people in the middle are waking up. Sure, there are some in those neighborhoods that have bought into Fox News and seem intent on punishing themselves and their neighbors with brutal budget cuts, all while worshiping the idle rich who dance across their television screens.

But most people in these middle-class neighborhoods realize they are getting screwed by the big corporations and the political power they wield. They know for a fact that they’re not lazy, that they’ve worked hard, that they’ve done all the things that they’re “supposed” to do. And yet many are just barely hanging on for dear life. Many are in danger of sliding down into those boarded up, vacant apartments just a mile or two away. And they voiced their support for those of us going door to door fighting for a quality public education for every Pennsylvanian. Their own kids and grandkids will be the ones who suffer if we lose it.

Just a little further west live the people who have fled these suburban, middle-class ghettos. In isolated communities with names like “Whispering Woods” you find winding streets lined with huge cookie-cutter mansions. It’s just a few miles from that neighborhood of abandoned apartments where you could film a post-apocalyptic movie without having to do much to dress the set. But it’s an entirely different world.

People with BMW’s parked in their driveways and huge plasma TV’s complain that government spends too much money. We all have to tighten our belts, they say. My kids go to private school. Why should I have to pay for public education? The unions have too much power. Teachers are overpaid. One person even went so far as to say, “Close the public schools. They’re worthless. The sooner we shut ‘em all down the better.”

If I could take one of them by the hand and walk up and down Juniper Street and Delaware Avenue where I began this diary, would they see? Would they really still demand more tax cuts if they were the ones who had to tell a little girl she had to give up gymnastics? Would they still demand drastic budget cuts if they had to tell that quickly aging single woman to walk five or ten miles to work alone?

There’s only one road leading out to the world of abandoned, padlocked apartments. There are only two leading into Whispering Woods. And now there are no bus stops in either. When will these people ever see each other face to face?

It’s our job to make the introductions. It’s our job to stand up and fight. It’s our job to head to the front lines and build support. It’s our job to bring communities back together again. It’s our job to take up a pen as a sword and a clipboard or iPad as a shield and to hold the line.

It’s our job to tell a little girl she can still take gymnastics.

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Scott Walker to rail money: “I want you back”

During the 2010 campaign, now-Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) railed against government spending. Shortly after his election, he proudly rejected federal funds that would have helped build a high-speed rail route between Milwaukee and Madison.

Well wouldn’t you know it: That rail money opened its bedroom window last night and saw Gov. Walker holding a boombox over his head playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”

But seriously, Scott Walker is now seeking rail funds to upgrade Amtrak’s Chicago-to-Milwaukee Hiawatha line, some of which he rejected just four months ago. The funds were then offered to Florida to connect Tampa Bay and Orlando, but Gov. Rick Scott (who also campaigned against government spending in 2010) turned it down as well. Now the money is back on the table, and the US DOT has received applications from many cash-strapped Midwestern states.

Walker’s “I want you back” declaration is the latest in the high-speed rail soap opera that has generated a lot of political headlines but not a single job.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who was Walker’s general election opponent last fall, is genuinely pleased with the news, but his fellow Milwaukee Democrat, Alderman Robert Bauman, feels differently:

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman criticized Walker for applying for the same stimulus dollars he scoffed at earlier. The $810 million would have expanded public transportation to new parts of the state, Bauman said, yet Wisconsin “kicked in the face of the federal government” by rejecting the dollars as an example of government run amok.

“Now we here we’re applying for the same federal stimulus money, the exact same source of money, and somehow this is wonderful and good and this is going to promote the economic fortunes of southeastern Wisconsin,” he said.

It’s hard to be truly disdainful of a job-creating rail project. I would love to see some of Milwaukee’s many laid-off construction workers get back to work. But Bauman is right: those guys could’ve been back to work months ago if Walker hadn’t been busy posturing.

This is what you have to remember about Scott Walker and the other union-busting governors: It’s not about the economy, it’s not about jobs, it’s not even about the deficit. It’s about politics. A few months ago Scott Walker wanted to stand up to the Obama Administration and receive a round of golf claps from the Beltway GOP. But after driving Wisconsinites into a recall frenzy, he’s realizing he might have to do something truly radical: his job.

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Off the Rails in Florida, Part 1

Florida currently has an 11.9 percent unemployment rate, the third highest in the country. But in lieu of helping those Floridians who are out of the work, Governor Rick Scott chose to make a political statement.

Some background: After fierce competition last year, Florida won $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high speed rail (HSR) project connecting Orlando and Tampa Bay under the previous governor, Republican Charlie Crist. And it’s easy to see why a governor (of any party) would want to reel in the HSR project: the planned Tampa-Orlando line was projected to employ a whopping 10,000 workers and create more than 48,000 job-years during the construction period. Not just any jobs, either – high-paying, sustainable jobs in engineering, architecture, urban planning, and manufacturing.

In February, current Governor Rick Scott – whose 2010 campaign included a promise of creating 700,000 jobs in seven years – made the decision to spurn the federal funds and cancel the project, saying “the risk far outweighs the benefits.” I read through a whole slew of articles on the topic, and found that it was reported largely in political terms: He’s “standing up to the President” or “bolstering his conservative credentials.”

However, there hasn’t been much said about the connection between Scott’s rejection of the funds and stories like this, from the Eastern Florida city of Stuart:

More than 500 people filed resumes Monday at the Martin County Fairgrounds for a chance to work on the long-debated Indian Street Bridge project, which will begin in less than two weeks.

Port St. Lucie resident Gerald Mitchell, a carpenter who hasn’t had steady work in nearly two years, said he wanted to show his commitment by arriving at 4 a.m.

“I’ve been on this, I’ve been calling the Department of Transportation since ’08,” said Mitchell…

…[Contractor] Archer Western is looking to fill at least 60 positions.

And “500 resumes for 60 positions” is a relatively mild statistic. Stuart is on Florida’s well-to-do eastern “Treasure Coast” – think Palm Beach and Boca Raton. In Central Florida’s more working class Marion County, unemployment climbed to 14.2 percent earlier this year, driven by construction workers laid off since the housing bust.

Now Gerald Mitchell and hundreds like him are showing up at the crack of dawn wherever there’s a hint of construction work – and they’ve been doing so for years.

The punditry can talk of Rick Scott’s “spine,” and his “credentials,” and how he’s “standing up” to Obama by rejecting a job-creating project. Unemployed construction workers like Gerald Mitchell might not own a newspaper or host a cable talk show, but I’m sure he would much rather his governor stand up for them – and start placing something tangible behind that 700,000 jobs promise.

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National News Updates

Corporate America is taking advantage of low interest loans, and sitting on the money till the economy improves. From the NY Times:

Companies like Microsoft are raising billions of dollars by issuing bonds at ultra-low interest rates, but few of them are actually spending the money on new factories, equipment or jobs. Instead, they are stockpiling the cash until the economy improves.

The development presents something of a chicken-and-egg situation: Corporations keep saving, waiting for the economy to perk up — but the economy is unlikely to perk up if corporations keep saving.

and

American corporations have been saving more money since the financial collapse of 2008. But a recent rush of blue-chip bond offerings — including a $4.75 billion deal last month by Microsoft, one of the richest companies in the world — has put even more money in their coffers.

Corporations now sit atop a combined $1.6 trillion of cash, a figure equal to slightly more than 6 percent of their total assets. In the first quarter of this year it was 6.2 percent of assets, the highest level since 1964, when it was 6.4 percent.

They aren’t hiring, though. As I wrote about back in July, some of these corporations are using this opportunity to cut jobs, force unions to make concessions, and still make a tidy profit for the shareholders.

Still we keep hearing that the private sector is our best hope for job creation.

US transportation system failing, warns a story in today’s WaPo:

The United States is saddled with a rapidly decaying and woefully underfunded transportation system that will undermine its status in the global economy unless Congress and the public embrace innovative reforms, a bipartisan panel of experts concludes in a report released Monday.

U.S. investment in preservation and development of transportation infrastructure lags so far behind that of China, Russia and European nations that it will lead to “a steady erosion of the social and economic foundations for American prosperity in the long run.”

Which reminded me of Laura’s post last month, where she mentioned President Obama’s proposal to invest $50 million in updating road, rail, and air systems.

Think of the jobs that would be created! Instead, we’re being held hostage by myopic people who are more interested in scoring political points than actually solving the very real problems that face this country.

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