Testifying at a U.S. Senate hearing on June 20 about new ways to fund much-needed national infrastructure improvements, BLET National Vice President Stephen J. Bruno discussed public-private partnerships and said that public funding must be used to supplement, not replace, current sources of funding.
He also said, “American labor must continue to have the same protections they are entitled to and have fought so hard to acquire.” He cited a current House proposal to privatize the Northeast Corridor as an example of a misguided public-private partnership because the plan would likely lead to significant job losses for Amtrak employees
“We believe there is a role for private capital in infrastructure financing, but strong conditions must be attached and an appropriate balance must be achieved,” Bruno testified.
The hearing, titled “Building American Transportation Infrastructure Through Innovative Funding,” was called by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
“Everyone acknowledges that our nation’s infrastructure is in dire need of repair and expansion,” Bruno said. “America badly needs the economic boost infrastructure investment provides. Infrastructure investment is a proven economic stimulator and job creator and it’s an investment in the future of America.”
He used two examples related to Amtrak to illustrate the right way and the wrong way to go about infusing private money into public transportation projects. Bruno discussed Amtrak’s own plans to upgrade the Northeast Corridor using private investors while retaining control and current labor protections. He contrasted that with the recently released plan by Representatives John Mica and Bill Shuster to privatize the Northeast Corridor.
“This (Mica/Shuster) plan would, in short, saddle Amtrak with all its debt while removing the Northeast Corridor, its greatest asset,” Bruno said. “This would endanger passenger and commuter rail throughout the country, and it would cause significant job losses among Amtrak employees. It places corporate shareholder interests ahead of the interests of the general public. The Mica/Shuster proposal invites corporate locusts to swarm in, acquire and leverage the profitable assets and leaves nothing but a rotting husk.”
Bruno discussed the need for greater spending on infrastructure, and cited statistics showing that the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world on infrastructure investment. According to a recent study by The Economist, the United States spends 2.4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on infrastructure spending, while Europe spends 5% of GDP and China 9% of GDP.
During questioning, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D–NJ) asked Vice President Bruno how the proposals to cut transportation funding by some members of the House of Representatives would impact the economy.
“While I’m not an economist, I certainly understand the principle of supply and demand,” Bruno said. “We have a supply in labor in this country for which there is no demand. Any legislation that will fund our nation’s infrastructure – which is in dire need of improvement – has the potential to balance the supply with the demand in the labor market.”
BLET National President Dennis Pierce thanked Vice President Bruno for delivering the testimony. President Pierce was unable to appear due to a scheduling conflict.
“Vice President Bruno has again done a great job of stepping up to represent the interests of the BLET, and in this case all of rail labor, in what is certainly going to be an important debate about the future of infrastructure investment in our country,” President Pierce said. “As Brother Steve noted in his testimony, there is a concern about the proper role for private capital in infrastructure and the possibility that both labor and the public good could suffer in the pursuit of private profits.”
A copy of Vice President Bruno’s testimony can be downloaded here: