Legislative Testimony

Testimony of Richard L. Trumka President, AFL-CIO, Before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

Thank you Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter for having me appear before your committee today.

Reauthorization of the surface transportation bill has been the most important jobs legislation Congress considers—and it’s a big priority for us. While the economy has improved, job creation remains sluggish. The construction sector alone is down 1.6 million jobs from pre-recession levels.

We not only need jobs, but good jobs.

It’s estimated that each billion dollars of federal investment in transportation creates 35,000 well-paying jobs—the type of career jobs that can support a family, a child’s education, a secure retirement and a middle-class life.

These investments not only create jobs, but spur economic growth, ensure our country’s long-term economic global competitiveness and improve the quality of life of our citizens.

For those in Congress still pushing an austerity agenda, let me tell you this: If your house has a leaky roof, not fixing it won’t save you any money. And like the leaky roof, delaying needed infrastructure investments will only cost us more in the long run.

I recently travelled to China and I was stunned at the speed at which our largest competitor is progressing.

China has been investing heavily in its infrastructure and the results are dramatic. During my trip to Shanghai, I visited the Yangshan Deep Water port, the world’s largest and busiest container shipping port. The port, like the high-speed trains that took me quickly and efficiently between China’s cities, is a key investment in China’s effort to upgrade its infrastructure and helps them keep up with the country’s growth of exports.

To get to the port, I traveled on a six-lane bridge that is 20 miles long, connecting Shanghai to the islands where the port is located. The bridge was completed in two and half years and employed close to 6,000 workers. Prior to the project, nothing was there but a sleepy fishing village with some islands off in the distance. The first phase of the project opened in 2004, and by 2013 China had accomplished its goal of having the world’s largest port.

America can do it too—and we can do it better.

I didn’t come here today to rehash all of the data regarding our nation’s infrastructure needs. Quite frankly, the facts have been reported, studied and discussed to death. The conclusions are always the same: Infrastructure investments are vital to job creation, economic growth and global competitiveness.

What remains to be determined is whether that information will be acted on—and what kind of country will we leave our children and grandchildren.

The Highway Trust Fund is at a crossroads. Failure to act will mean our transportation system will decay further, construction workers will stay on the bench, supply chain and transit workers will lack steady work and our economic and global competitiveness will be diminished.

Many funding ideas have been proposed, but few have been acted on. Other proposals have limited application. That leaves the gas tax, or some variation of it, as the main source of funding.

Raising the necessary revenue will not be easy, regardless of where it comes from. But to be blunt, we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand. A bridge that is deficient today will not be any better tomorrow. Congress must come together to enact a robust, long-term reauthorization.

If business and labor can come before you united on this issue despite our sharp disagreements on a variety of other matters that should tell you something.

We need to be the America that can – not the America that can’t.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.