Obama sets huge public works plan

President-elect maps largest effort since interstate highway

December 07, 2008|By Peter Wallsten | Peter Wallsten,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -

President-elect Barack Obama pledged yesterday to launch the biggest public works program since the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s as part of his plan to create 2.5 million new jobs and stem an economic tailspin that is growing worse by the day.

"We need action - and action now," Obama said in a weekly address broadcast on radio and posted as a YouTube video.

His comments came the day after the government announced that 533,000 jobs had been lost in November - the worst monthly job loss report in 34 years. The address marks the latest effort by the incoming president to shape events and build momentum for his agenda before he takes office.

Obama aides and Democratic lawmakers hope that a new economic stimulus plan, which could cost as much as $700 billion, will be passed by Congress in January so that Obama can sign it into law within hours or days of his inauguration on Jan. 20.

The plan, as Obama laid it out yesterday, would include massive investments in roads and other infrastructure programs reminiscent of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's highway program, which employed millions of people and cost tens of billions of dollars.

Obama said he would compel states to move quickly on construction projects or risk losing the help from Washington.

"We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s," he said. "We'll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we'll set a simple rule - use it or lose it. If a state doesn't act quickly to invest in roads and bridges ... they'll lose the money."

Maryland has identified millions of dollars' worth of "shovel-ready" projects, Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday in a statement.

The federal funding would allow the state to "deliver infrastructure improvements that will last beyond the immediate economic crisis and benefit generations to come."

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office has estimated the state could initiate $28 billion worth of infrastructure projects within four months. "Equipment could be ordered and shovels could be in the ground virtually immediately," said David Crane, a Schwarzenegger adviser who has met with Obama aides.

Obama said yesterday his plan would include a push to make federal buildings more energy efficient by installing new heating systems and energy-saving lightbulbs. Such initiatives, he said, would save billions of taxpayer dollars and "put people back to work."

Additional provisions would upgrade school buildings, enhance broadband technology and create a system to ensure that Americans have access to electronic medical records.

Obama did not say how much each idea would cost, nor did he attach an overall price tag to the proposals. He said he would fill in additional details in the coming weeks.

"He hasn't given us any commitment, but we are fairly certain it's going to be large," Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governors Association, said in an interview yesterday. "I think he understands if you're trying to reverse the economy and turn it around, this is not the time to do it on the cheap. This is not the time to do it in small doses. It's got to be big."

Obama's comments reflected the growing belief among his advisers and Democratic leaders that the plunging economy requires massive spending - despite the national debt.

Since the recession began a year ago, about 2 million jobs have been lost. Obama has said that his plan would aim to create 2.5 million jobs by 2011.

"We need to act with the urgency this moment demands to save or create at least two and a half million jobs so that the nearly 2 million Americans who've lost them know that they have a future," he said yesterday.

Several governors and local officials embraced Obama's initiative, including Schwarzenegger, Rendell and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The three issued a joint statement through their nonprofit, Building America's Future.

"We applaud President-elect Obama for focusing on the crisis ..." they said. "With the latest grim economic news, now more than ever, we need this investment in infrastructure to help create and retain jobs and lay the foundation for future economic growth."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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