CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A local Charleston resident attended a conference at the White House last week that promoted transportation industry jobs but said although he applauds President Obama for his "bold vision on jobs," none will be created unless there is a bigger push for action.
Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group and a member of U.S. Action, said "for those of us who want the president to go further, we need to build a movement to help build more jobs in health care, human services, education, public safety and environmentally-safe energy.
"Between June 2010 and June 2011," Zuckett added, "we created 1.7 million private sector jobs. At the same time, we lost 450,000 public sector jobs."
Zuckett was invited to attend the conference and sat at the same table as Vice President Joe Biden.
"I got to shake his hand and the president's hand. It was very inspiring and makes you feel there is still hope for this country," Zuckett said.
Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., voted for legislation on Thursday to invest money in the country's highways, roads, airports and railroads that could have put thousands of constructions workers back to work. However, Senate Republicans blocked the bill.
Rockefeller said the bill "would provide the critical investment we need to rebuild our weakening transportation network, put thousands of people back to work, and allow our country to grow -- without adding to the deficit.
"I'm proud that West Virginia has some of the best small airports in the country, but the deteriorating roads and bridges in the state and across the nation are holding us back economically.
"It's disappointing that the Senate didn't pass this bill or the larger jobs bill which would have put even more people back to work."
U.S. Action, which Zuckett is a member of, has 22 state affiliates lobbying for legislation to create jobs and extend unemployment insurance through 2012.
During a telephone interview with the Sunday Gazette-Mail, William McNary, U.S. Action's national president, said, "We not only have to create private sector jobs, but also protect public sector jobs.
"We also need to close corporate loopholes, end the wars and stop nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan and begin nation-building in America.
"We need to build bridges and roads. But we also have to build bridges to people to help them get in the middle class and protect Social Security and Medicare.
"And we have to invest in students from early childhood education all the way to college," McNary said.
Rockefeller said the law that failed to pass on Thursday would have provided funds to upgrade 150,000 miles of road and to create and maintain 4,000 miles of railroad tracks.
Today's poor road conditions cost motorists $67 billion a year, or almost $333 each, Rockefeller said.
The bill also would have provided funds to restore airport runways and install air-traffic control systems to reduce delays.
Today, West Virginia ranks eighth in the nation in the number of its bridges rated "poor," according to Transportation for America, a coalition of business, environmental, public health and transportation groups.
Manchin voted for the Democratic-backed "Rebuild America Jobs Act" to invest $60 billion in roads, bridges and airports. He also voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored bill to extend federal transportation funding for two years.
Manchin said that legislation, which also was defeated, would "rein in the Environmental Protection Agency, and put a stop to additional regulatory overreach."
Zuckett said, "The Rebuild America Jobs Act could have put 450,000 jobless Americans back to work.
"That's 450,000 jobs right now and money in the pockets of our neighbors to feed their families, heat their homes and support the businesses in our communities."
Zuckett also pointed out that recent CNN polls show 72 percent of Americans support "increasing federal spending to build and repair roads, bridges and schools."
Those supporters include 70 percent of independent voters and 54 percent of Republicans.
Zuckett said Senate Republicans "unanimously rejected the Rebuild America Jobs Act ... to defeat a .07 percent tax increase on millionaires and billionaires."
Last month, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., introduced legislation to finance roads, highways and waterways by expanding offshore energy exploration.
Her "Rebuilding American Roads Act" requires the Interior Secretary to expand offshore oil and gas leasing and deposit money generated by expanded production -- including royalties and other fees -- into the Highway and Inland Waterways Trust Funds.
According to independent estimates, Capito said, her legislation would generate $435.5 billion over 30 years.
Several environmental groups oppose that legislation, including the Sierra Club, National Resource Defense Council and League of Conservation Voters.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.