Mayors Push Job Creation Agenda in White House with President Obama, Senior Economic Officials
By Elena Temple Webb
February 1, 2010
Conference President Burnsville (MN) Mayor Elizabeth B. Kautz led the nation's mayors in an opening press conference on the first day of the Winter Meeting to unveil the Mayors' 2010 Metro Agenda for America that confronts the persistent unemployment that still exists on MainStreet America.
While the national unemployment rate is ten percent, the unemployment rate in Providence is 14.9 percent; in Long Beach (CA) it is 13.9 percent; and in Las Vegas it is 13.9 percent. In response to these higher-than-national average figures, the mayors' bipartisan Metro Agenda focuses on key policy areas mayors believe are critical to putting the American people back to work and helping the nation emerge from the recession with a stronger, more thriving economy.
The five policy areas of the Mayors' Metro Agenda are:
- job creation through direct funding to cities;
- a more balanced transportation bill next year that recognizes the necessity to modernize the current transportation system in order to daily move goods and people in our metro areas of the nation;
- energy independence and climate protection through green, sustainable jobs and the mayors' Energy Efficiency Block Grant;
- improved airport security;
- and continued funding for proven, working programs like Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants, and Summer Youth Jobs.
"Despite what national economists are saying, the recession is not over for MainStreet America," said Kautz as she presented the Mayors' Metro Agenda. "Unemployment is concentrated in cities and metro areas and every day, mayors hear from constituents who have lost their jobs and people who are desperately afraid of what lies ahead. We are here to let the residents of our cities know that we hear their calls for help and we are responding."
The mayors' urgent call for a metro jobs agenda was underscored by a major economic report released during the press conference forecasting job recovery and unemployment rates in the nation's 363 metropolitan areas, where 85 percent of the people in this country live. Prepared by IHS Global Insight for the Conference of Mayors, the report indicates that over 105 metros will still have unemployment rates above ten percent; and 214 metros will still have unemployment rates higher than eight percent by the end of 2011.
The report also shows that even as recovery picks up steam, unemployment rates will not return to pre-recession levels in any metro area until after 2013.
"This data is solid proof that we need the Senate to pass a MainStreet jobs package now," said Kautz "We are in the middle of a ‘jobs emergency' that demands decisive and swift action."
Kautz also explained, "Without a robust recovery in metropolitan areas, there can be no national recovery. Our cities and our metro economies are centers of our national economy. We ignore them at our own peril."
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley echoed Kautz's comments and encouraged business development in cities. "The nation's mayors are in town to educate Washington about the real world. Job creation is the priority. Mayors are conducting furloughs and laying off people in city hall, companies are eliminating positions all together, and jobs are being moved overseas. … We have to think about job creation and the economy in the long term. We must create an environment in our cities that is business friendly and where companies want to locate and expand. We have to get rid of the old playbook and do something different."
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper encouraged a different approach to federal investment in transportation infrastructure. "The way we invest federal dollars over the next decade will define how cities and metropolitan areas look in the future. Mayors have to help reorient Washington's focus toward cities and metropolitan areas. We hope that Washington will get it right this time and create livable, walkable communities where people can have a good quality of life. And a good quality of life starts with a good job."
Akron, OH Mayor Donald Plusquellic encouraged closer working relationships between lawmakers and mayors saying, "Washington seems to be engaged in partisanship instead of partnership. Congress and the Administration should view cities as partners, and understand that we are capable of using federal dollars wisely and creating jobs quickly. Consider programs that directly fund cities like Community Development Block Grants [CDBG]. CDBG works well and is vital to the health of America. We urge the support of programs like this one."
The mayors took their collective message to President Obama, Vice President Biden and the Administration's economic advisory team on Thursday at a meeting at the White House. Their goal was to make the case for their Metro Agenda, as well as the need for a stronger federal/city partnership.
In his remarks to the mayors, President Obama acknowledged that being a mayor is difficult. He also acknowledged the need for a "new strategy for urban America" that "chang[es] the way Washington does business with our cities and metropolitan areas."
The President recognized that "strong cities are the building blocks for strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America." The President also cited the economic data saying, "Cities and metropolitan areas account for 90 percent of the economic output; they are the engines that we need to get started again."
The President then said his 2011 budget will "back up his urban vision by … investing responsibly in what works" to "help rebuild and revitalize our cities and metropolitan areas for the future."
The President also took questions from the mayors about unemployment levels in cities, job creation, federal transportation funding, the flow of Stimulus dollars from states to cities, maintaining water and sewer infrastructure in cities and healthcare reform.
Following the mayors' meeting with President Obama, Kautz led a press conference on the White House grounds with a small group of mayors.
"The nation's mayors are pleased that the President's agenda for MainStreet America is aligned with our Metro Agenda for America. We share the same priority of attracting new jobs to our metropolitan economies," said Kautz. "And all levels of government must work closer together to build a bold vision for what cities and metropolitan areas will look like in the coming decades."
Charleston (SC) Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., agreed saying, "Mayors of America and the Administration are in lockstep and understand that our mutual goal is bringing jobs to the people of America's cities. This can be done through the Tiger Grant Program in the Stimulus plan to create shovel ready projects in our communities and put people back to work."
Riley reminded reporters, "The economy will rebound not on the national level, but rather in cities and towns of this country." He also cautioned, "In the Great Depression, they let up too soon and there was further recession. Right now the President needs to avoid making that same mistake."
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter explained that the mayors have a partner in the White House. "President Obama displayed incredible leadership and a great capacity to listen in our meeting today. The President reaffirmed his commitment to stand shoulder to shoulder with mayors across the country to create jobs to put the people of America's cities back to work."
Columbus (OH) Mayor Michael Coleman said, "President Obama is aligned with people in our cities. While we've come a long way, the President also understands there is still a long way to go. We all understand the challenges we face in the areas of housing, small business development, and investment in infrastructure. The President exchanged ideas with us today and we are grateful for that. I am 100 percent certain that the Administration is committed to creating opportunities to put people back to work."
Trenton (NJ) Mayor Douglas H. Palmer harkened back to the mayors' message saying, "When we go back home to our respective cities, the people ask us what we did for them while in Washington (DC). We can tell them we had a very positive meeting with President Obama. We can tell them that President Obama acknowledged that cities and mayors are not the problems in this country; they are in fact the solution. We know there has to be a paradigm shift in how federal dollars are allocated, so that the lion's share is not directed to states. The nation's mayors are saying that we have the capacity to create jobs for the people of this country and we have the capacity to do it quickly."
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann explained that mayors are already working with Congress to create working partnerships. "This week, we met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Daniel Inouye (HI), and others. We talked about the importance of collaborating with Congress to create jobs for the people of this country, and we are confident that our message was heard."
The reporters then shifted focus and asked New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin about the recovery in New Orleans and the tragedy in Haiti. "The nation's mayors have reached out and offered support to the people of Haiti. However, it concerns me that our nation doesn't seem to be prepared for another Katrina-like catastrophe, because we haven't made the fundamental changes to the Stafford Act needed to ensure our readiness. In response, I have put forth a resolution to the body of the USCM that offers substantial revisions to the Stafford Act that would help us to be better prepared," responded Nagin.
As the new President of The Conference of Mayors, this was the first Conference of Mayors meeting over which Kautz has presided. The nation's mayors will return to Washington in February for the Fall Leadership Meeting to continue to press for a jobs package for the people of America's cities.