Obama plugs new programs for construction

March 29, 2013 at 3:58 PM
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MIAMI, March 29 (UPI) -- President Obama returned to economic issues Friday, urging Congress to pass tax incentive and spending proposals to lure investment in U.S. infrastructure.

Standing under sunny skies at the Port of Miami Terminal, Obama said there was work to be done on the nation's infrastructure and workers ready to do it.

"Let's prove to the world there's no better place to do business than right here in the United States of America and let's get started rebuilding America," he told the crowd after he toured a joint public-private construction project building a tunnel beneath the channel to link the port to major highways.

Obama also recalled his State of the Union call to rebuild the nation's infrastructure so America is more attractive for businesses.

Obama's "Rebuild America Partnership" will bring together new and existing policies aimed at "enhancing the role of private capital in U.S. infrastructure investment as a vital additive to the traditional roles of federal, state and local governments, making American workers and businesses more competitive and putting more Americans back on the job," the White House said in a fact sheet.

Obama called on Congress to enact a National Infrastructure Bank, based on a model that had bipartisan support in the Senate in the past, funded with $10 billion that would leverage private and public capital and invest in infrastructure projects that would be awarded "not pork-barrel politics" but on based on "how much good they'll actually do for the economy [and] how much the projects make sense."

He also spoke of his new "America Fast Forward Bonds" program expands the Build America Bonds program to include projects that can be financed with qualified private activity bonds while also making the combined program more flexible.

The third is to build on the success on of two grant programs that were part of the Recovery Act by proposing $4 million in new funding for both programs.

The cost for the three programs would be about $21 billion, the White House said.

Obama's chief economist, Alan Krueger, said the three programs would have a substantial effect on the economy because "they will be leveraged 2-to-1, 3-to-1, 4-to-1, up to 7-to-1, depending upon the particular program. And ... they will not increase the deficit by a dime because they are paid for in our budget."

Building better roads, bridges and schools "should not be a partisan idea," Obama said, noting that the Chamber of Commerce and unions agree that it should be done.

The White House said the Miami port tunnel project has created work for 500 employees and more than 6,000 contractors and subcontractors.

"We can do this not just here," Obama said, "we can do this all across the country."

Before Obama's visit to Miami, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican said the president should reimburse Florida for its port projects.

"We're certainly glad President Obama is coming to the Port of Miami ... but he's late to the party," Scott, who is running for re-election, told reporters in a conference call Thursday.

"We could not wait for the federal government to come to the table with their share of the project," Scott said Thursday, demanding Obama "step up to the plate" and promise to reimburse Washington's share of the funding.

In the past three years, Florida taxpayers invested $425 million in seaport-related upgrades, Scott said. This includes $77 million two years ago to fund the port's $180 million "deep dredge" project, deepening the port to 50 from 42 feet, which will let Miami handle bigger cargo ships and is projected to create more than 30,000 new jobs, he said.

The White House responded to Scott, saying it funded a $340 million loan to help finance the port tunnel project and a $23 million grant to restore freight rail service between the port and the Florida East Coast Railway, which provides intermodal shipping-container transportation.

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