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Debate Centers on Proposal to Create Jobs by Updating National Infrastructure

March 3, 2009 at 6:45 PM EST
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A debate at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia focused on proposals to create jobs through an overhaul of the nation's infrastructure. Robert MacNeil moderated the discussion.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, creating jobs while overhauling the nation’s infrastructure; that was the subject of a recent debate by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, conducted with the recent National Governors Conference in Washington. The moderator was our own Robert MacNeil. The participants included California Governor Schwarzenegger, energy consultant Doug Foy, and former GAO official JayEtta Hecker.

Here’s an excerpt.

ROBERT MACNEIL, Moderator: In the present economic crisis atmosphere, when — and short-term needs, like creating jobs, are obviously so much on everyone’s mind — can we also tackle the long-term goals, all the other priorities, like reducing emissions, traffic congestion? Can you do that now or, for the next few years, has it got to be jobs?

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), California: Well, I think you can do all three. You can protect the environment. You can protect the economy, create jobs, and also go and build the infrastructure that you need down the line.

The important thing is that we now put as much money behind infrastructure as possible, so that was the only disappointing part about the last stimulus package was that we all felt that, as infrastructure fanatics, that we would get like $300 billion or $400 billion towards infrastructure, since we know, as you could hear, that there’s $1.7 trillion of infrastructure that needs to be done within the next five years, because for every billion dollars that you spend on infrastructure, you create 18,000 to 25,000 jobs.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Do you agree, Doug Foy, that all these other priorities can be pursued while the huge emphasis is on jobs right now?

DOUG FOY, President, Serrafix: Actually, one of the interesting thing statistics around fix-it-first, if we repair what we already have, is it produces more jobs and work faster than building anything new, because you don’t spend a lot of money on lawyers and permitting and environmental review. You just fix the bridge. And so it’s all jobs, and it’s all labor, and it’s all materials.

So, actually, you’ll get way more jobs out of a fix-it-first agenda in the next two years than doing anything else.

ROBERT MACNEIL: JayEtta Hecker?

JAYETTA HECKER, Bipartisan Policy Council: I’m not so sure that it’s so easy to do both. And while people have always talked about how public infrastructure is this double win that you get the infrastructure and you get jobs, jobs is actually the worst possible proxy for a good investment.

It is not about what’s efficient. It’s not about performance. You know, a big part of existing infrastructure isn’t just fixing the potholes. It’s managing it. It’s optimizing its performance, and that’s not very job-intensive.

It’s use of technology. It’s simple things, like synchronizing lights…

ROBERT MACNEIL: Traffic lights?

JAYETTA HECKER: … traffic lights.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Every job that you can save right now is important. Every job that you can create is very important.

And like I said, it should not be the number-one reason why we invest in infrastructure, to create jobs, but I think, since we all know that we need infrastructure and we need it really badly, this is a perfect situation where we can put the two together, create jobs, and also build great infrastructure for the future, and also protect the environment at the same time.