Can California really afford to give up a $13 billion investment in jobs?

After reviewing the American Jobs Act that President Barack Obama has introduced, I believe that this is exactly what California needs to get our residents back to work. While I am certainly no economist, I do know that right now we need capital investment in California to jump-start California’s economy and move through these tough economic times. This bill would do that by bringing $13 billion into California to create new jobs and to save education and public safety jobs throughout the state. With state unemployment at 12 percent as of July 2011 (the highest since March), I am amazed that critics of the administration want us to reject financial assistance we so desperately need.

Let’s look at the numbers. If passed, California would immediately receive $3.96 billion for highway and transit modernization projects. California contractors would compete for these projects, bringing revenue into their businesses. In turn, they would create 51,500 local jobs for Californians — good, well-paying jobs, with health and pension benefits for their employees. These companies, in turn, would purchase materials to complete these projects, creating opportunities for suppliers. Workers would spend their money on rent, mortgages, food, clothing and other bills, thus spreading this money across the community. This spending helps businesses stay open, employ their workers and, if it continues, put more people to work.

In addition, California would receive $2.81 billion to modernize at least 35,000 public schools. This investment will create as many as 36,600 jobs. Another $1.13 billion in funds in the next fiscal year would go to California’s community colleges to upgrade and modernize their facilities. Improving classrooms and upgrading our schools is a priority for everyone. We want our children to have the tools necessary for a great education and develop the skills necessary to obtain a good job. Again, California’s contractors would compete for these projects, earning revenues, employing workers with good wages and benefits, purchasing supplies from local businesses, and circulating that initial investment in our community and supporting local businesses and residents.

This bill would also put building trades workers back to work cleaning up our neighborhoods that have been affected by the foreclosure crisis. With a $1.85 billion investment, building trades workers would rehabilitate and refurbish thousands of vacant and foreclosed homes and businesses throughout the state, cleaning up those eyesores that bring housing values and neighborhoods down. California can gain additional funds through a competitive application process.

More than jobs for building trades workers, this bill would get California back on its feet. With $3.62 billion in funding for public safety workers and educators, this bill would prevent the layoffs of California teachers, police officers and firefighters. As many as 36,600 jobs would be included in this investment in our state.

The American Jobs Act benefits small businesses as well. With payroll tax cuts, complete payroll tax holidays for new jobs and wage increases, extending the business expensing for investments through next year, small businesses will see relief. This will help them keep operating. This alone means $70 billion for small business nationwide.

Again and again, these funds will have a multiplier effect throughout our state and local communities. The creation of jobs, protection of communities from fire and crime, the upgrading of our schools for our children, giving small business encouragement, and support for our region’s economy are government investments in our future while giving assistance to us in the short term under poor economic times. With the creation of a national bipartisan infrastructure bank, this bill ensures investment in critical infrastructure over the long haul. This will allow local municipalities like San Diego to commit to local investment in infrastructure at the lowest available rates while creating thousands of jobs.

These are stressful times. Many of us are unemployed, or know people who are unemployed and have been for too long. Their unemployment benefits have run out, their savings are gone, and if they haven’t already lost their home, they are struggling to keep it. The American Jobs Act would extend unemployment benefits to keep 356,900 folks looking for work in California from losing their benefits, and this could happen in the first six weeks.

The bill would also reform the unemployment system. Part of this reform would assist the transition back into the workplace for long-term unemployed. Things have changed over the past few years — many jobs are no longer available, and others require new skills. A new “Pathways Back to Work Fund” will provide 19,800 adults and 58,000 youths in California with job training and work opportunities.

Critics of this bill say it costs too much, or it doesn’t address our needs. Obama has ensured that this bill will be fully paid for by having the Joint Committee come up with the additional necessary deficit reduction while still meeting our national deficit target. As for meeting our needs, ask anyone looking for work if creating new job opportunities would help.

The American Jobs Act and its commitment of more than $13 billion to California are important to all of us. With our state’s high unemployment rate, creating jobs that employ you, your neighbors, family and friends should be of the highest priority. Our local municipalities do not have the funds for investment in job creation. Currently, their focus is on contracting out, budget cuts, layoffs and reduced public services. To progress as a city, county and state, we must make financial investments in the short term to create business opportunities and jobs, stabilize and modernize our education system, and invest in our public safety officers. I urge everyone to call their congressmen and senators and tell them to vote yes on the American Jobs Act. California needs it.

Lemmon is the business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO.

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