President Barack Obama touted Miami as an example for the nation to follow when it to comes to improving infrastructure, as he pushed forward Friday with plans to create jobs through public-private partnerships.
He detailed his proposal at PortMiami, which is getting a $2 billion upgrade.
"Today I am expanding on a proposal I made in the State of the Union. I am calling it a Partnership to Rebuild America," Obama said. "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."
His proposal includes setting up an independent fund to attract private investment and strengthening the loan programs for cities and counties to better access funds for infrastructure improvements.
He also toured the tunnel project that will connect the port to the highway. The project has gotten loans and grants under the programs the president is backing, and it is expected to open next summer.
"We are going to fix our economy. We are going to fix our immigration system. We are going to make sure that our young people are getting a great education," said Obama. "We are 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 next generation and the generation after, that we will 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."
He has pointed to the port tunnel project as a model of public-private partnership. The deep dredge project is expected to add about 30,000 jobs as the port is deepened from 42 to 50 feet, making it able to handle larger cargo ships, which are expected to pass through an expanded Panama Canal in 2015.
“If you weren't making the strategic investments, Miami would be basically a nice little niche regional port," Port Director Bill Johnson said. "We aspire to be more, we aspire to be in the top five in the nation in container movement.”
Obama has made private sector infrastructure investment a key part of the economic agenda he rolled out in his State of the Union address last month. He also called in his address for a "Fix-It-First" program that would spend $40 billion in taxpayer funds on urgent repairs. All of the proposals would require approval from Congress.
But Obama faced some criticism from Gov. Rick Scott, who wants Washington to pay Florida taxpayers back for their investment in the port.
“What I’ve asked is (if) he would give us the federal money that they should have spent on the Port of Miami,” Scott said. “As you know, Florida taxpayers had to put up the money to dredge the port. That was supposed to be federal money.”
The president says politics should not be part of infrastructure funding debates, but that's a tall order.
Miami-Dade County Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said the Obama administration should reimburse the state.
“He has to because residents of this county paid very high tax dollars to the federal government," said Sosa, who is a Republican. "We want a percentage back.”
Democratic congressman Joe Garcia disagreed.
“That is not the case,” he said. “What we’re doing is investing, and cities, counties, states and (the) federal government have to work together.”
During his appearance Obama also talked about basketball, saying that he knows Floridians aren't happy with the Chicago Bulls.
"Let's face it, Florida is the center of basketball right now," he said.
Obama's visit temporarily affected Miami-Dade's Metrorail, Metromover and Metrobus service in some areas.