Back in May, when I first proposed that our local transit tax money be put to use right here in Los Angeles to produce electric cars, electric buses, trains, an advanced technology rail system, the idea was received with mixed reaction.
On one side, the public saw the possibilities and expressed its enthusiasm and strong support for the proposal with letters to the editor and calls to my office. The public saw this as an opportunity to accomplish two objectives: preserve local jobs and keep Metro Rail dollars here at home.
On the other hand, a consortium of economists, bureaucrats and politicians immediately viewed the plan with skepticism as expressed in an article that appeared last month in The Times. However, as of yet, I have not heard of any plans or proposals of their own that would provide employment to thousands of people who have lost their jobs as a result of governmental inertia, lack of creativity, leadership and vision. When Los Angeles County Transportation Commission employee Travis Montgomery stated, “It is no longer even a choice of buying U.S.-made versus foreign rail cars . . .” he stepped out of line, and he only expressed his personal view.
I submit there are ways that rail cars can be assembled and tested right here in Los Angeles. UTDC, a Canadian manufacturer, the supplier of the rail cars for the commuter lines that will start operating in Los Angeles County in the fall of 1992, has already expressed strong interest and desire to do so. HSST Corp., the Japanese mag-lev train manufacturer, wrote to Gov. Pete Wilson expressing a “desire to explore technology transfer and manufacturing options in California.”
I also reject the defeatist attitude of Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County, who states " . . . and as for the unemployed manufacturing workers in the near future, the outlook for those people is pretty grim.”
What we need is a get-tough attitude toward foreign competition. Here is one idea for starters: enact legislation that would require that foreign manufacturers and suppliers must underbid domestic companies by at least 15% in order to win the contract. It’s been applied in other states, such as Arkansas, and it’s working.
What we need is leadership and vision. The problem, however, is that our politicians and bureaucrats from Los Angeles to Sacramento, all the way to Washington are indecisive, taking cover under the excuse, “But we have no authority.”
They exercise their authority, however, when it comes to salary increases and junkets abroad to inspect the Canadian, Italian and Japanese trains paid by the taxpayers of Los Angeles.
When is our leadership going to wake up and fight for what is right? I have total confidence in the American worker to compete successfully in the market place, if he or she is just given a chance.
Patsaouras is a member of the RTD board of directors and is vice chairman of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.