Construction workers hope for Obama's help

January 20, 2009 8:01:21 PM PST
The state is counting on federal stimulus dollars to help with infrastructure projects around California, perhaps none more pressing than our highways and roads. President Obama referenced that work in his speech, but others wonder just how quickly it will begin.

California's construction industry is struggling to survive. Residential and commercial jobs have evaporated, public works projects are all that's left and now the state budget impasse means even that is drying up. These workers are counting on President Obama's promise of federal stimulus dollars for infrastructure.

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America?we will rebuild the roads and bridges," said President Obama.

But the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, is now questioning the effectiveness of putting stimulus funds into public works.

House Democrats want $30 billion for highway construction, but the CBO says less than half of that would make it into the economy over the next four years, and that less than $4 billion would reach the economy by 2010.

No one knows how much of that California might get, but transportation officials say it should be a healthy percentage since ours is the most populous state. And they say at least 18,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion invested.

"Depending on when a package is passed and signed into law by the new president, we think there could be an immediate impact," said John Goodwin, from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

A construction industry trade group says stimulus funds might hit a bottleneck in other states, but not in California.

"We've got $22 billion worth of transportation projects out there that could actually get started in the relatively near future. Give us the money and we'll put a lot of people to work," said Jim Earp, California Alliance for Jobs.

How quickly the stimulus dollars make it into the economy may depend on whether contractors will get paid directly, or instead get paid by the state, which would then be reimbursed by Washington.