Durbin tells Galesburg leaders job creation top concern

By:  John Pulliam
Galesburg Register-Mail

GALESBURG —Job creation, infrastructure improvements and a call for Congress to act like grown ups were among the highlights of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s discussion with members of the Galesburg Area of Chamber of Commerce Friday morning.

Durbin met privately with Chamber members in the Garden Room of The Kensington, then answered questions from reporters. It was the third day Durbin had been in the area, having made stops in Peoria, Canton and Macomb earlier in the week.

“We all are concerned about job creation, that is number one,” Durbin said, when asked what he discussed with city business leaders during the closed meeting. “What I tried to do on this swing is visit downstate companies that are doing well during the recession.”

Asked about the odds Congress will approve President Obama’s jobs package, Durbin said time will tell.

“We’re going to find out in the next few weeks,” he said. “I think the president’s on the right track, giving payroll tax cuts to families will help.”

He said assistance to small businesses and state and local governments, included in the president’s proposal, also make sense.

Durbin said recent job reports show private sector jobs growing, with public sector jobs decreasing.

“What the president is trying to do is slow the loss of public sector jobs,” he said, “particularly firefighters, police officers and teachers.”

The mood in the nation’s capital will have a lot to do with whether Congress can agree on a jobs proposal. Durbin said attitudes among the nation’s lawmakers must change.

“America is fed up with political squabbling in Washington. They are sick of tired of the doom and gloom about this nation’s future,” he said. “I hope we return with a more grown-up attitude. I, myself, am sick and tired of it.”

Chamber President Bob Maus agreed with Durbin and went a step further. He said Americans want less political squabbling and more willingness to reach across the aisle and compromise.

“I would argue having that happen is paramount to the future of our country,” Maus said, adding if this change does not occur, “we don’t have much of a future.”

The importance of improving the nation’s infrastructure and how that fits into job creation was another topic of discussion. State Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, attended the breakfast meeting. Moffitt said work under way in Galesburg is an example of how such improvements will help the economy recover.

“That’s a significant part of what we are as a community,” he said, citing the three overpass/underpass projects, as well as the third mainline from the BNSF Railway classification yard. He said long-term ramifications of the work will mean more jobs at the railyard, “permanent, private-sector jobs.”

During a recent visit to China, Durbin saw first hand work being done in that country to put an infrastructure in place China hopes will make it a world leader for years to come. Maus said Durbin talked of the need for the U.S. to focus and address its own infrastructure needs.

Repairing and building highways is part of how infrastructure work helps breathe life into the economy of downstate Illinois. Durbin said a House of Representatives proposal to slash those funds could be devastating.

“Cutting back on highway construction, those of us from downstate know how much that means to the local economy,” he said.

Durbin also is disturbed by a recommendation from a House sub-committee that could harm a vital part of Galesburg’s economy. The proposal calls for federal funds to be eliminated for state-supported Amtrak trains. Half of Galesburg’s Amtrak service — the Illinois Zephyr and The Carl Sandburg — depend on state support.

“The House of Representatives proposal to eliminate (some) Amtrak service to Galesburg would be devastating to Galesburg,” the senator said.

Asked why federal money for passenger rail service creates so much passion, when no one blinks an eye at money from Washington for air service and highway construction, Durbin said it’s because some people do not understand the importance of Amtrak in the modern world.

“They start with the premise passenger rail service is a relic from the 19th and 20th century,” he said. “It’s not some nostalgic idea, it’s today’s idea.”

Amtrak’s fiscal year ended Friday. The passenger rail service, for the first time in its history, carried more than 30 million passengers during that fiscal year. Durbin said not only is this a reasonably priced travel alternative, “it reduces traffic congestion and reduces pollution.”

Changes to the tax code, to help individuals and corporations, and success stories of downstate companies flourishing during the recession and in the face of foreign competition, were among other issues Durbin talked about Friday.