[Audio of Administrator Rogoff remarks (Windows Media)]
Well thanks and let me say first and foremost I’m really thrilled to be here. I’m very lucky to have had President Obama nominate and have me confirmed as the Federal Transit Administrator. But one of the most important things I do is allocate some ten and a half billion dollars a year of federal tax dollars—taxes paid by you and me—and turn those dollars into orders for buses like these.
If I have one message for all of you, it’s really just to pass along the thanks of President Obama, Secretary LaHood and his whole team for the high-quality work that you do in turning out the highest quality buses that American manufacturing is producing today.
You know, it may not be something that you feel in your gut every day when you’re working on the line, but what you’re accomplishing here with every vehicle is really part of a movement. Transit ridership is now up to its highest level in five years. We have had now in the last two quarters the biggest upticks in transit ridership for two consecutive quarters than we’ve experienced for decades.
There is an inevitability about the growth in transit that’s going to come because the American population is going to grow by some 100 million citizens in just the next 40 years. And we know that it’s not going to happen, and were not going to have the kind of economy that going to support growth—growth in job creation, growth in the quality of life for us and kids—by just expanding highway capacity.
President Obama has articulated an all-of-the-above strategy for dealing with higher gas prices, and getting more of these vehicles out on the road is an elemental part of that strategy, not only because of the new fuel-efficient technologies you are putting into these vehicles, but also just giving more Americans more choices on how they get around every day. We know that bus transportation isn’t going to be an option for everyone. Speak for myself: I take a bus and a train to work every day; my wife drives every day. That’s what makes sense for my commute versus her commute. But what’s important is that in my neighborhood we have a choice. And part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy on dealing with gas prices is to give more Americans that choice. People can save thousands of dollars a year, thousands of dollars they keep in their pockets rather than hand over at the gas pump, by utilizing the transit services that you people make available.
So, like I said, you may not feel it in your gut every day and every hour of working on the line, but this is part of a movement that is elemental to the recovery of our economy and it’s elemental to the prosperity of our economy going forward. So again on behalf of President Obama I want to thank you. You’re the people making it happen.
Very quickly, one of the other things I would just like to talk about is uniquely American manufacturing. When President Obama and our team took office, our economy was hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs a month. It was a time of unprecedented economic contraction and the worst recession since the great depression. And we have slowly but surely been turning that around.
American manufacturing employment is now up to the highest level it’s been in years, certainly before we came into office but more importantly it’s on the grow. And this administration is taking posture that we’re going to claw and fight to get every American manufacturing job back we can. Part of our proposal as an administration, specifically as it relates to transportation, is to raise the American content of buses and railcars that are brought with American tax dollars. These are taxes paid by you and me and all the other American tax payers for public investments in public transportation. And we have not only the right but the obligation to insist that those dollars are plowed into American jobs.
So I’ve had the benefit of testifying before Congress saying that we want the percentage of these American vehicles to grow not just from the minimum sixty percent—and you do better than here at Gillig—but also to grow it by ten percent a year every year until we can get it to 100 percent. This is not just about getting more jobs here at the Gillig plant. To the credit of this company and the management team and the commitment of folks, employment thankfully has stayed relatively stable here at Gillig. But when you look at the supplier base, and when you look at some of the other manufacturers they’ve really spiked up and down as orders have come and gone.
Part of the solution for that is for Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill. The last long-term transportation bill expired in 2009. President Obama has said that we need to take half the savings that were going to enjoy from bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and plow half of that money into deficit reduction and half that money into investments like these. A long-term transportation bill that will fund our transportation enterprises, our transit agencies, for a full five or six years so they have the financial surety and the confidence that they can put in an order not for one, two or five vehicles but orders for ten, twenty, fifty, or a hundred vehicles and know they’re going to have the resources to pay them.
We frankly need your help in making that happen. Congress has been kicking the can down the road now several times, and most recently they kicked the can down the road another 90 days. And that’s starting to show up in order books, not in just this company, but companies around the country. That’s not a formula for giving people options to not pay money at the gas pump. That’s a formula for just kicking the can down the road. We need your help and the help of you and all your neighbors in convincing Congress that a long term transportation bill—especially in a period of $4 gasoline is an absolute must. So let me thank you for your efforts. Again it’s a longwinded speech with one message, and that is that the Obama Administration is thanking you for the great work you do in turning out some of the best vehicles anywhere in the world every day.