This week, conservatives in the United States Senate blocked a $60 billion piece of President Obama’s American Jobs Act from advancing — a package that would have created a national infrastructure bank and funded needed infrastructure projects while putting 450,000 Americans back to work , paid for by a miniscule 0.7 percent surtax on taxpayers making over a million dollars a year. This follows the similar conservative blockage last month of $35 billion  in aid to states that would have allowed states to save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and first responders. All told, Congress has now blocked three separate jobs bills over the past month (including their original rejection of the entire American Jobs Act), a striking display of intransigence on the part of conservatives who claim to be concerned about job creation. As jobs efforts stall in the nation’s capital due to this right-wing obstruction, state legislators from 48 states and counting are letting D.C. know their states need jobs now, and many are taking the lead on job creation themselves.
Over 225 lawmakers from 48 states and three territories  have now signed on to an open letter  first released by Progressive States Network last month calling for the passage of the American Jobs Act, described in the letter as “a common-sense package of proposals that recognize the crisis of job losses in the states while adopting effective job-creation solutions that many of our states are already advancing.” The letter focuses on four elements of federal a jobs bill that would save and create jobs in the states: relief to state budgets that will allow states to avoid slashing the jobs of more teachers and first responders, inclusion of revenue generating measures that ask the wealthiest 1% to pay their fair share, adoption of innovative state and bipartisan policies to save and grow jobs such as work sharing and the prevention of employer discrimination against the unemployed, and expressing concern about cost shifts to states in any adjustments to Medicaid.
The direct aid to states to filibustered in the Senate in October remains one key priority of state lawmakers across the nation. On the White House blog , North Carolina State Rep. Pricey Harrison recounted what that bill would have meant for jobs in her state:
“I spent part of Tuesday with President Obama as he met with and spoke to teachers, students, staff, and other citizens of Guilford County while in Jamestown on the campus of Guilford Technical Community College. The President was there to promote the American Jobs Act, which is projected to create more than 2 million jobs nationwide and help rebuild our middle class and an economy that works for all of us... [The plan] will provide over $900 million to North Carolina to support up to 13,400 educator jobs.”
With jobs continuing to be the chief concern of voters, conservatives on all levels of government have also felt pressure to come up with their own “jobs” plans in response to the plans being offered by President Obama and responsible lawmakers. The resulting proposals reflect their proponents’ true priorities. As United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard wrote , the conservative Congressional "jobs" plan to gut Wall Street reform, shred regulations, and repeal health care reform under the guise of job creation is truly a “ruse to firmly establish in America an economy designed for, dedicated to and directed by corporations rather than a just economy controlled by and beneficial to the 99 percent.”
The jobs plans proposed by conservatives in the states have been no less cynical. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker called a special session purportedly to spur job creation but which was described  by State Rep. Marc Pocan as consisting of giveaways to corporate interests that are “straight from the conservative corporate mastermind, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).” One of the most prominent bills to be debated in Wisconsin’s special “jobs” session has been one allowing guns  on the floor of the state capitol.
Some more encouraging news emerged from a special jobs session in Connecticut , where lawmakers reached almost unanimous bipartisan agreement on a $626 million package of measures including the expansion of workforce development, funding infrastructure repairs, retrofits to home heating systems, and tax credits for hiring the unemployed. “This bill gives [Connecticut families] more than hope,” commented  Connecticut House Speaker Chris Donovan on the achievement. “It gives them a program that invests in their future. It fosters an environment that will create jobs, help small businesses grow, spur innovation, educate and train our workforce, and make Connecticut competitive again.”
As the Senate continues to debate and vote on more elements of President Obama’s American Jobs Act in the coming weeks, including extension of unemployment insurance and extending the payroll-tax cut, progressive state lawmakers will simultaneously be preparing for sessions next year focusing on policies they can advance to create jobs in the absence of federal action. The National Employment Law Project recently released “Filling the Good Jobs Deficit: An Economic A Recovery Agenda for Our States and Cities ,” a set of suggested policy options for cities and states to consider in dealing with the continuing jobs crises they face. Some of the measures highlighted in the report include raising the minimum wage, strengthening enforcement of wage and hour laws, getting the long-term unemployed back to work, protecting against further layoffs through work sharing, and retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient — all policies that Progressive States Network will also be supporting in the coming year and which have broad potential to advance in the states.
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