By STEVE HART
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
North Bay labor unions and their supporters pushed for a massive federal jobs program Tuesday at a forum in Rohnert Park, saying it’s the only way to jump-start a flagging U.S. economy.
“In this environment, government is the last resort,” said Bill Scott, an official of the Marin Building Trades Council. “It’s the only thing that’s going to create demand and create jobs. A trillion dollars would get this thing started.”
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, echoed the call, saying supporters should pressure President Obama to draft an ambitious jobs plan.
“This is a national emergency,” Woolsey said. “We need government to take a major role.”
About 70 people attended the public forum at Sonoma Mountain Village sponsored by North Bay Labor Council and Service Employees International Union.
Not everyone in Tuesday’s audience agreed that a federal stimulus program is needed. Some questioned the cost, arguing for less government, not more.
“The pie is shrinking,” said one critic. “You guys live in a bubble!” shouted another.
President Obama is expected to unveil a new economic program after Labor Day, with a mix of stimulus spending and tax cuts.
The president’s $787 billion stimulus program in 2009 helped start the recovery, but it didn’t go far enough, said Sylvia Allegretto, a research economist at UC Berkeley. The economy stalled earlier this year as Washington politicians argued over deficits and debt limits, she told the Rohnert Park group.
“The recovery was hijacked by the deficit hawks,” Allegretto said.
“We need a big, bold stimulus package,” she said. “The only thing that’s going to get us out of this is government.”
Unemployment has hovered in double digits in Sonoma County for all but four of the past 26 months, inching up to 10.3 percent in July. The region’s construction sector has been particularly hard hit, with 30 percent unemployment, said Chris Snyder, district representative for the Operating Engineers union.
“The human toll has been unbelievable” as families lose their homes and health care, he said.
The 2009 stimulus program provided $275 million in federal funds for her North Bay district, Woolsey said, paying for transportation projects, health clinics, education, energy conservation and public safety.
She said a new round of stimulus could be financed by ending the war in Afghanistan and repealing the Bush tax cuts.
Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane said earlier stimulus funding provided more than 700 jobs in Sonoma County, about 94 percent in the private sector.
A recent cutback in federal funding is hurting the county’s health clinics and other programs, Zane said.
“Those dollars produce jobs and they save lives too,” she said.