THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Miami! (Applause.) It is good to be back. You know, I've been waiting for spring. I realize I just had to come down to Miami. (Laughter.) It is wonderful to be here.
We've got some outstanding representatives in Congress from this area -- Joe Garcia is in the house. (Applause.) Frederica Wilson is in the house. (Applause.) And we've got Debbie Wasserman Schultz here. (Applause.) I want to thank the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Gimenez. (Applause.) And of course, it's good to see all of you. And I want to thank the gentlemen who just gave me a amazing tour of the PortMiami Tunnel.
LITTLE GIRL: Yea!
THE PRESIDENT: What are you yelling about? Hey, sweetie. (Applause.)
WOMAN: She came just to see you!
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, well, hello. (Laughter.) She's going to be a politician because I could hear her without a mic from far away. (Laughter.)
Now, before we get started, I've got to get into a sticky subject right off the bat. I know you guys aren't happy with my Chicago Bulls.
AUDIENCE: Booo --
THE PRESIDENT: But I just want you to know the Heat are going to be just fine. They're going to be okay. (Applause.) They are playing basketball the right way. The Hurricanes -- they had a great season -- no, no, they deserve a big round of applause. (Applause.) Tonight you've got Florida and Florida Gulf Coast going at it. (Applause.) One of them will go to the Elite Eight. So, let's face it, Florida is the center of basketball right now. (Applause.)
But I'm not here to talk about hoops. I'm here to talk about one of the plans that I put forward in my State of the Union address -- a plan to put people to work rebuilding America.
I've come to PortMiami today because there are few more important things we can do to create jobs right now and strengthen our economy over the long haul than rebuilding the infrastructure that powers our businesses and our economy -- our roads, our bridges, our schools, and our ports just like this one.
As President, my top priority is to make sure we are doing everything we can to reignite the true engine of our economic growth -- and that is a rising, thriving middle class. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs -- that's got to be our true North. That's what has to guide our efforts every single day. And to do that, we should be asking ourselves three questions every single day: Number one, how do we make America a magnet for good jobs? Number two, how do we equip our workers with the skills they need to do the jobs? Number three, how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?
When it comes to good jobs, no workers were hammered harder by the recession than construction workers. Fortunately, the unemployment rate for construction has been cut nearly in half over the past three years, partly because the housing market is starting to bounce back. But construction still has the highest unemployment rate of any industry. Breaking ground on more projects like this tunnel that I just saw means more good construction jobs that can't be outsourced. They have to be done right here in America. And they end up giving people good pay and good opportunities to raise their families. (Applause.)
Projects like this create a lot of other good jobs, too. You ask any CEO where we they rather locate their business and hire new workers. Are you going to set up shop in a country that's got raggedy roads, runways that are pot-holed, and backed-up supply chains? Or are you going to seek out high-speed rail, Internet, high-tech schools, new state-of-the-art power grids, new bridges, new tunnels, new ports that help you ship products made in America to the rest of the world as fast as possible? (Applause.) That's what people are looking for. That's what CEOs are looking for.
When you ask companies who brought jobs back to America in the last few years they'll say, if we upgrade our infrastructure, we'll bring even more. So what are we waiting for? There's work to be done; there are workers who are ready to do it. Let's prove to the world there's no better place to do business than right here in the United States of America, and let's get started rebuilding America. (Applause.)
Now, over the last four years, we've done some good work. Construction crews have built or improved more than 350,000 miles of road. That's enough to circle the globe 14 times. We've upgraded more than 6,000 miles of rail -- enough to go coast-to-coast and back. We've repaired or replaced more than 20,000 bridges. We've helped get tens of thousands of construction workers back on the job.
Because of these efforts, when the American Society of [Civil] Engineers put out their 2013 report card on our national infrastructure, they gave it the best overall grade in 12 years. That's the good news. The bad news is we went from a D to a D+. We still have all kinds of deferred maintenance. We still have too many ports that aren't equipped for today's world commerce. We've still got too many rail lines that are too slow and clogged up. We've still got too many roads that are in disrepair, too many bridges that aren't safe.
We don't have to accept that for America. We can do better. We can build better. And in a time of tight budgets, we've got to do it in a way that makes sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
Now, what these outstanding folks here in Miami have been doing is a good example of how my plan would work. PortMiami is a busy place. Hundreds of cargo containers pass through every day. Nearly one in five cruise ship passengers in North America sets sail from this spot. All that commerce helps support a whole lot of high-paying jobs, not just in Miami-Dade, but throughout the region.
But it also, let's face it, creates some congestion. Right now, 16,000 cars and trucks travel to and from PortMiami every day, and they're stuck going through downtown. And those traffic jams are bad for business. Whether you're a small business owner in South Beach, or a manufacturer in Atlanta trying to get your goods overseas, that congestion wastes time and money.
Now, some smart folks decided we could solve this problem by digging under the bay, linking the port directly to the highway. State, county, and local governments got together and agreed to jointly fund PortMiami Tunnel. Everybody had some skin in the game. They did something else -- they partnered with a group of private sector companies to finance the design and construction of the project. They made it clear that the payments to these companies would be linked to their performance so if there were big cost overruns, the private companies would have to eat those extra costs.
Because of those efforts, construction workers are on the job digging this tunnel, doing great jobs, getting good pay, boosting the economy, strengthening it for the long run. The port is in better shape, which means it's going to be able to get all the containers that are coming in from all around the world, matched up with the improvements that are being done on the Panama Canal -- which means we're not going to be losing jobs to other countries.
We can do this not just here in Miami-Dade, but we can do this all across the country. So today, I'm expanding on a proposal I made in the State of the Union. I'm calling it a Partnership to Rebuild America. It's a partnership with the private sector that creates jobs upgrading what our businesses need most --- modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.
And my plan does three things. First, we'll set up an independent fund that will attract private investment to build projects like this one, and make sure companies share in the risk and returns. Instead of picking projects based on pork-barrel politics, we'll pick them based on how much good they'll actually do for the economy, how much the projects make sense. And we'll better finance projects that involve more than one mode of transportation, or more than one town or state, with less red tape to gum up the works. So all of this will make the process more efficient. It will help us break ground on some of the projects that our cities and states need most, and they can do it faster and better.
Second, we're going to fund more projects, at less cost, by establishing a new infrastructure initiative called America Fast Forward bonds. It's going to give mayors and governors more flexibility and power to attract private investment for public projects.
Number three, we'll strengthen a loan program that, in recent years, has helped governors and mayors leverage four times the money Washington put into it, and that means we're helping construction workers get on the job quicker, repaying taxpayers their hard-earned money faster. That's the kind of approach we used to help PortMiami Tunnel get off the ground --- or I guess underground. (Laughter.)
That's the Partnership to Rebuild America. That's how we'll create good jobs doing the work America needs done. That's how we'll encourage more businesses to start here, and grow here, and hire workers here.
And by the way, this should not be a partisan idea. I know in Washington people just like to argue. I guess it gets them on TV. But the fact is you've got the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO agreeing to better infrastructure, knowing that it will help both businesses and workers. So if you're got the Chamber and the unions agreeing, then the politicians should be able to agree, too. (Applause.) Building better roads and bridges and schools, that's not a partisan idea. And in fact, that's where you can get mayors and governors from both parties to find some common ground.
I know that members of Congress are happy to welcome projects like this in their districts. I know because I've seen them at the ribbon-cuttings. (Laughter.) They'll all say how, no, we don't want to do it. And then they're all writing me letters saying, we really need this port. Cut somebody else's port out. (Laughter.) That's what they'll say. Cut somebody else's road. Cut somebody else's -- well, no, we're all in this together. So if you think it's good for your district, then it's probably good for other districts, too.
We can't afford Washington politics to stand in the way of America's progress. So I've put forward some ideas to get the private sector involved to protect taxpayer dollars. But ultimately, Congress has to fund these projects. And by the way, the three members of Congress who are here, they all believe in this, they all support it. It will put people back to work and it will grow our economy in the process.
So Miami-Dade, my main message is: Let's get this done. Let's rebuild this country we love. Let's make sure we're staying on the cutting edge. Let's make sure we've always got the ports. Let's make sure we've got the best airports. Let's make sure we've got the best rail lines. Let's make sure we've got the best roads. Let's make sure we've got the best schools. (Applause.)
We're going to push on this issue each and every day, and make sure we get the middle class going again. We're going to fix our economy. We're going to fix our immigration system. We are going to make sure that our young people are getting a great education. We're going to prevent them from being victims of gun violence. We are going to make sure that everybody in this country has a fair shot and is doing their fair share so that when we pass on this country to the next generation and the generation after that, we'll be able to once again say that here in the United States of America, it doesn't matter what you look like or where you come from, if you work hard, you can make it.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.