Infra key to jobs and opportunity, Obama says

‘First-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure’ the US President said in his State of the Union Address, underscoring the importance of infrastructure to jobs and economic growth.

US President Barack Obama called on Congress to reform the tax code and to use the resulting savings to create jobs rebuilding the country’s roads, upgrading its ports and improving mass transit for commuters, in his 2014 State of the Union Address delivered on Tuesday night.

While just one paragraph out of a 10-page speech was dedicated to infrastructure, the President was still able to underscore the importance of the sector in terms of jobs and opportunities.

“In today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure,” Obama said, when he called on lawmakers to reform the country’s tax code, by eliminating “wasteful, complicated” loopholes, putting an end to incentives that ship jobs overseas, and lowering tax rates for those businesses that create jobs in the US.

Savings resulting from this transition could then be used to upgrade the country’s infrastructure, creating jobs in the process, and “the best measure of opportunity is access to a good job,” he stressed.

Currently, there are two bills – one in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate with the same name – that promise to do just that. The Partnership to Build America Act calls for the creation of a $50 billion infrastructure bank that would be funded in part by companies repatriating a portion of their foreign earnings tax free by buying bonds that would be used to establish the infrastructure fund. Both versions of the Partnership to Build America Act enjoy bipartisan support.

The President also urged Congress to pass a transportation and water bill by this summer, which would protect more than three million jobs.

US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has also cited the surface transportation re-authorisation bill as necessary, especially since the current law, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) is set to expire in September. The law secures funds for the repair, maintenance and upgrade of the country’s mass transit systems, roads, rail and bridges. What’s more, the Highway Trust Fund is expected to run out in August.

As for the water bill, both the House and the Senate have passed their own versions. In November 2013, a House-Senate committee was established to resolve differences between the House version – the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) – and the Senate’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Once both chambers approve the committee’s final measure the bill can be sent to the President for his signature.

Obama also promised to act on his own to cut red tape and to streamline the permitting process for key projects.

“Opportunity is who we are,” he said. “And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”

Official White House photo by Pete Souza.