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Between President Obama’s fight for his stalled jobs bill and the growing public debate about the role government should play in reviving our economy, Assembly Square is getting a lot of outside attention these days.
When the state Democratic party and President Obama’s campaign recently asked me to hold a November 3rd press conference to highlight the way that public leadership and public investment were bringing jobs and growth to Assembly Square, I was happy to oblige. After all, one of the most commonly repeated right-wing talking points these days is that only the private sector can create jobs, and that the only ways to help “job creators” is to cut taxes for the wealthy and get rid of environmental, health, safety and financial regulations.
I welcomed the opportunity to explain that private-sector investment was certainly crucial, and that the goal of smart growth projects like Assembly Square should always be to create private-sector jobs – but that public investment in infrastructure and public leadership in shaping a development vision were just as essential. We have great private partners at Assembly Square, but they’d be the first to acknowledge that they can’t build in a vacuum.
That’s why it’s so shortsighted for Congress to block President Obama’s American Jobs Act proposals to encourage job growth by investing $50 billion right away in our nation’s transportation infrastructure and setting aside another $10 billion to create a bipartisan National Infrastructure Bank.
The jobs created by this investment will be private sector jobs, initially in the hard-hit construction industry but over time in every US business that depends on roads, rail and transit to move its workers, customers and products.
So I did as I was asked, and there was some local media attention – but that wasn’t the end of it.
Last week I got a call from Michael Dukakis, the former Governor, current professor at Northeastern, and good friend of Somerville and its people. (Nobody has done more than Mike has to advance the cause of transit-oriented development, and he has been a strong voice for getting Somerville the transit access it needs and deserves.)
Mike asked me if I would join Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino and Boston City Councilors Mike Ross and Tito Jackson in helping to kick off a “Teach In” on the Northeastern campus this past Sunday. Mike and his colleague, the distinguished urban economist Barry Bluestone, had put together a daylong series of panels and workshops that they’d entitled “Reclaiming Our Economy.”
The topics included: an overview of the current economy; lessons about what went wrong in the lead-up to the 2008 recession; the effects of income inequality; and, of course, how we can get the economy – and our sputtering national political system back on track.
Mike Dukakis asked me to speak in the morning welcome panel because he wanted to get it into the record that government can’t afford to sit on its hands and do nothing in the present crisis – and that projects like Assembly Square offered a model for national recovery.
Once again, I was happy to oblige. Because Governor Patrick was there, I had a chance to thank him publicly for provided state development dollars to Assembly Square – and for his steadfast commitment to the new Orange Line station that is so crucial to the success of the entire Assembly Square district. I also thanked Congressman Capuano and Senator Kerry for their leadership in securing federal transit dollars for the Orange Line Station.
But mostly I talked about the ways that public infrastructure investment – which will total over $110 million, including $25.75 in city-backed bonds – will leverage over $1.5 billion in private sector investment.
I think a ten-to-one return on investment is pretty darn good – especially when it also leads to the creation of thousands of permanent jobs and tens of millions of dollars in annual state and local tax revenues.
I don’t understand why that message has been so hard to hear in Washington, but I’m grateful to Mike Dukakis and Barry Bluestone for incorporating it into their teach-in. As I said to them and their audience last Sunday, “I hope events like this one will help convince a dubious and worried nation that we can reclaim our economy, rebuild the middle class and recapture the American Dream – if only we pay attention to this clear lesson of our past and our present: private wealth is nothing without public vision and public leadership.”