LoBiondo talks jobs, government spending and beach replenishment

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OCEAN CITY — Addressing the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce at The Flanders Hotel Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo commended the energy and enthusiasm displayed by local merchants.

“Everyone is working hard, it’s a model for cooperation,” he said, adding that unfortunately the national outlook was a lot less optimistic.

The recurring theme as he talks to the business groups, he said, is “uncertainty,” which is a drag on the economy.

While it “won’t happen tomorrow,” LoBiondo warned that the nation was headed down the same path as Greece – financial disaster – unless government backs off and allows the private sector to do what they do best.

“It’s small businesses that will pull us out of this,” he said.

President Barack Obama’s stimulus only stimulated government jobs, he said. “It has not helped the private sector.”

LoBiondo said the nation needs to drill for oil, but not off the Jersey Coast; health care legislation is strangling business and the worst is yet to come, taxes and unemployment are too high, beach replenishment remains up in the air and the nation’s non-existent energy policy means further escalation of gas prices.

All of this, he said, is toxic to the seashore merchants.

“What do we do about it?” he asked.

“The government throwing enormous sums of money, taxpayer money, is not going to help. Some say without it, unemployment would be at 12 percent,” he said.

LoBiondo disagrees with that notion.

“We’re borrowing 46 cents for every dollar we spend from foreign governments, mainly China,” he said. “It’s not a good scenario, it’s unsustainable.”

Borrowing, he said, put the nation in a big hole.

Unemployment in South Jersey hovers over 14 percent, but could be higher.  Because so many people have given up looking for work, he said, “you have to add two or three points on top of that.”

“The government tried to stimulate the economy, but they stimulated the government and not the private sector,” he said.

Lobbying for his support, LoBiondo said DOT officials told him in early 2009 that a “very big project” was under consideration in his district. He was surprised he did not know something of this magnitude was under consideration, but it turned out that the project they were referring to was the $400 million Ninth Street Bridge and Route 52 Causeway.

“At that point it was under construction,” he said. “For two years! I said, ‘You’re telling me you’re going to pull it if the funding doesn’t go through?’ They said, no, that they would ‘reprogram’ it.”

He said the federal government took credit for creating over 500 jobs for the project.

“It was one of the top 100 projects in the nation for creating jobs,” he said. “With that mentality, it’s not surprising that we have problems.”

Tom Heist IV of Heist Insurance said the cost of government bureaucracy, rules and regulations was strangling small businesses.

“Now, with national health care coming … the profit margin is already so slim, they may close their business and go work for someone else,” he said. “The government needs to become less in our lives. Some have lost hope and given up.”

LoBiondo said he had little hope to offer, adding that he was not sure which way the Supreme Court might go on ruling against the constitutionality of the health care bill’s individual mandate.

“The worst of it has not hit,” he said. “The bill does not kick in until 2014. The crunch is coming. When the president asked for it to be passed, the thought was to keep the cost under $1 trillion. It’s $940 million and 3,000 pages. Whatever is in there is nothing compared to what it’s actually going to cost.”

Community banks, he said, were under tremendous pressure.

“You have to prove you don’t need a loan to get a loan,” he said. “The people who created the problem on Wall Street are not held accountable.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, equally culpable, he said, are also out of the equation.

Government, he said, comes up with big ideas that rarely play out on Asbury Avenue.

Energy, he said, was a huge problem.

“We need a comprehensive energy solution,” he said, adding that the plan should include drilling and natural gas.

“We use 20 million barrels of oil a day, we used to produce 10 million a day, now we produce 7 million barrels,” he said. “That gap is a huge drag, a tremendous burden and a threat to national security since we are buying oil from people who don’t like us.”

The answer for the short-term was to lift the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf and the Keystone Pipeline, he said.

“Natural gas is $1.70 a gallon, and our production is up 11 percent the last couple years,” he said. “It’s a huge opportunity. Our reserves are more than OPEC put together.”

Beach Replenishment, he said, was on hold because earmark funding was suspended. Earmark abuse, he said, put all projects in jeopardy, but he was hopeful that some funding would be forthcoming.

“It’s so simple, no beaches, no tourists; no tourists, no business; no business, no jobs,” he said.

Mayor Jay Gillian said finding a location for dredge spoils was equally important; LoBiondo said that was the work of state bureaucrats, but if they “got their act together” he would spur the Army Corps of Engineers into action.

LoBiondo said he would be happy to meet with local business owners and their employees anytime to discuss these issues.

One local merchant said she happily worked 70 to 80 hours a week, but “the profits aren’t there.”

“I’m worried about my kids,” she said.

A local Realtor said short-sales were the “new normal,” but government bureaucracy and mortgage insurance brokers made putting any kind of deal together almost impossible.

People who might be able to stay in their homes were kicked out.

“It’s one of the biggest problems I face,” she said.

LoBiondo said he would continue working on all of the issues facing the district.

 


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