Mayors Urge Congress to Address Jobs

With unemployment unchanged in August, city leaders say feds should invest in infrastructure and manufacturing
by | September 2, 2011
 

On the same day new figures  indicated the country failed to add new jobs in August – keeping the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.1 percent – the country’s mayors called on Congress to make domestic investments while cutting taxes to try to stimulate the economy and put Americans back to work.

The message came from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and Mesa, Ariz., Mayor Scott Smith, who comprise the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Among their top priorities: a fully-funded transportation bill, which they say will create 2.8 million jobs and help states and localities leverage their own money to make investments.

The message came a day after President Obama urged lawmakers not to let the federal highway program lapse, as they did with the Federal Aviation Administration, which resulted in 4,000 furloughs plus other work stoppages for construction employees.

The mayors also called for an extension of unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts, a tax cut for employers on new hires, investments in manufacturing and changes to visa requirements to generate more tourism. Many of the mayors' proposals have already been endorsed over the last month by President Obama, who is set to present his jobs plan to Congress and the nation next week. (Read the full plan here.)

“The most basic job they have is to put people back to work, to address an economy that’s stagnant,” Villaraigosa said of Congress.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that, by the end of the year, 25 metropolitan areas will have unemployment rates above 12 percent, and it might take at least a decade for 48 metro areas to return to pre-recession employment levels.

Metro areas are home to almost 86 percent of the country's jobs and 90 percent of the country's GDP and wages, according to the organization. But mayors acknowledged that any substantial improvements to employment numbers will have to be federally-driven.

Yet the mayors and Obama may face a challenge gaining traction on federal jobs plan, as they face a Congress that, over the last year, has had virtually no achievements and has struggled to simply keep the government operating. The unemployment rate remains nearly identical to what it was in January – 9 percent – when the new class of legislators was inaugurated. Meanwhile, with Washington focused on deficit reduction, the mayors may have a hard time convincing legislators to spend the vast sums they believe is necessary to kickstart the economy. Nutter decried “a Congress that is obsessed with deficit reduction while ignoring the deficit of jobs.”

But Nutter tells Governing he doesn't believe the mayors' plan is futile, and mayors will continue to push Congress, despite its record. “It’s unacceptable on any level to talk about the notion that they can’t get anything done,” Nutter said. “It’s their job to do something. They took an oath. They don’t get a free pass.”

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