CINCINNATI — Vice President Kamala Harris landed in Cincinnati Friday for a discussion at University of Cincinnati's 1819 Innovation Hub on new investments in infrastructure and public transit.
With their first 100 days behind them, President Joe Biden's administration has announced sweeping $4 trillion spending proposals for infrastructure and families. Top-line items from the plans include investments in roads, bridges and broadband, as well as providing preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child, making two years of community college free, and offering 12 weeks of maternity/paternity time off for new parents or other medical situations.
The roundtable, chaired by Ohio's Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, also involved several local transit leaders and experts, including:
- Darryl Haley, SORTA CEO
- Eddie Koen, President and CEO, Urban League
- Vikas Mehta, Professor, Fruth/Gemini Chair, Ohio Eminent Scholar and Urban Design Certificate Coordinator at the University of Cincinnati
- Jill Meyer, President and CEO of Cincinnati Regional Chamber of Commerce
- Troy Miller, President/Business Agent, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 627
While conversation was anticipated to involve funding for the Brent Spence Bridge, the vice president did not mention Friday which local projects may be picked to receive funding through the legislation.
“I can tell you, I know about the Brent Spence Bridge, and it is a very important bridge in America, and I am sure that there will be a lot of conversation about its qualifications for some support out of the American Jobs Plan,” Harris said.
During the discussion, Harris touted the administration's goals to allocate "significant" funds toward training transit workers to drive new, green buses in Cincinnati. Union leader Miller expressed how COVID-19 has not only impacted workers through sickness -- it has also led to stiffer budgets and job cuts.
Chamber of commerce leader Meyer explained that increased access to public transit is linked to economic development. SORTA CEO Haley said public transit is about jobs, specifically connecting people to higher-paying jobs to help move citizens out of poverty.
“Even if you yourself don’t use public transportation, the people you count on count on public transportation," Haley said.
Mehta, an expert on urban design, added that transit can do that, but it can't solely be about serving the poorest workers.
“Transit is not a project -- it’s a system, it’s an ecology,” Mehta said, one that affects more people than those who ride.
Urban League leader Koen also encouraged the administration to “really think about transit from a racial equity lens” and build on what they’re already doing.
Harris explained that funding infrastructure beyond roads and bridges is not a political issue, but one that can spur economic growth and create jobs.
"When we're looking at the capacity to grow the economic vitality of communities, including small businesses, and increase the productivity of a workforce -- much less expand the work force -- what we know is that the reality is that people regardless of who they vote for or which party they're registered with, that's what they want. And that's what they want to see their government work on," Harris said.
Biden plan includes training current workers to work on new, green buses instead of contracting out. About 200 of about 800 union members are maintenance workers, transit union leader says. @wcpo— Courtney Francisco (@CFranciscoWCPO) April 30, 2021
In response to the vice president's visit, U.S. Senate candidate and Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken said Harris should be visiting the southern border instead.
"It’s shameful that in the middle of a raging border crisis, the Biden administration is more interested in a PR tour for their 100 days of failure than actually addressing issues of national concern," she wrote.
“Touting their everything-is-infrastructure bill, Kamala Harris’ attempts to sell tax hikes and lost wages to Ohioans will fall on deaf ears. Harris is better off fixing the infrastructure at our southern border and ending a crisis that affects so many Americans," said Republican National Committee spokesperson Preya Samsundar.
Biden is also speaking on his plans Friday during a visit to Philadelphia.