Obama’s economic plan has been somewhat overshadowed with Washington fixated on guns, immigration and federal budget cuts known as the sequester. Some of the loudest applause for Obama on Friday came at the end of his remarks, when he pledged to fix the immigration system, improve schools and prevent gun violence.
Friday was Obama’s first visit to South Florida since being reelected last November. As he stepped off Air Force One, he was greeted on the tarmac of Miami International Airport by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Democratic U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Joe Garcia of Miami and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. A gaggle of other county, school board and state legislative officials were in the audience for the president’s speech.
First, though, he stopped at the gaping mouth of the tunnel, which will allow cargo trucks to go directly from the port to the MacArthur Causeway, alleviating road congestion. The $1 billion tunnel is expected to be completed next year.
Obama took off his suit jacket and entered the tunnel with PortMiami Director Bill Johnson, the heads of the tunnel project and a union representative.
During his speech, he noted that private companies financed the design and construction of the project, and that all levels of government put in money.
“Everybody had some skin in the game,” he said.
The president did not mention a planned $180 million port dredging to accommodate larger vessels after the widening of the Panama Canal. On Thursday, Republican Gov. Rick Scott called on Obama to reimburse the state for the $77 million Florida invested in the dredging, which will also be paid for by county funds. For years, the port unsuccessfully lobbied the federal government to contribute.
“While we’re happy to host the President, we hoped to hear a commitment to reimburse Florida taxpayers the millions of dollars the state invested for the federal portion of port projects in Miami and Jacksonville,” Scott said in a statement Friday. “In the meantime we will not wait on Washington.”
The White House responded that the federal government provided a $340 million loan to help finance the tunnel project, and a $23 million grant to restore freight rail service between PortMiami and the Florida East Coast Railway.
Mayor Gimenez has repeatedly warned county commissioners that they should not count on federal money to finance other pending Miami-Dade projects. The county has drawn up a $1.5 billion plan to repair its antiquated, spill-plagued water-and-sewer system, under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The causeway to Key Biscayne has been partly shut down as county administrators consider a more than $30 million rehabilitation of the Bear Cut and West bridges’ corroding steel beams.
The White House said it could not provide an estimate of how many jobs might be created by the president’s proposals, because that depends on private sector interest.“When it comes to good jobs, no workers were hammered harder by the recession than construction workers,” he said.
Obama called on both parties in Congress to take action on his proposals.
“Building better roads and bridges and schools — that’s not a partisan idea,” he said.