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10:00pm July 21, 2012

Mayors: Do-Nothing Gridlocked Congress Needs to Help Cities

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By Eric Mayes of the Philadelphia Tribune 

Frustrated at the political gridlock in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Thursday released a report that members hope can be used to re-focus national attention on the need for spending on infrastructure, transportation and education.

“It must be the mission of this bipartisan organization to make sure that the priorities of cities are addressed by both presidential candidates through the course of this upcoming election and beyond,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, president of the conference which was meeting in Philadelphia this week. We want to remind both presidential candidates, the Congress and Washington in general that when you invest in cities, you invest in America.”

The report, a 116-page document titled U.S. Metro Economies, compiled by the consulting firm IHS Global Insight, provided a detailed statistical snapshot of the nation’s cities and predicted modest economic growth for the remainder of the year.

Short-term projections in the report anticipated a 1.4 percent increase in employment in metropolitan areas by the end of 2012, and a 2 percent growth in city’s share of gross domestic product. In addition, the report anticipated that over the next 30 years, cities will grow 32 percent, adding 84 million to the nation’s population centers.

For that growth to happen smoothly the nation needs to invest, concluded the report. However, over the last several years, investment has fallen. Public spending on infrastructure in the United States has fallen to 2.4 percent of the gross domestic product, according to the report.

Nutter noted that infrastructure spending had been at 3 percent of the GDP not long ago, saying, “It’s going in the wrong direction.”

“We need to make smart investments today to ensure that we will continue to grow in the future,” Nutter said. “The nation’s mayors are calling for investments that will not only create jobs today but that will pay dividends for decades to come.”

Speaking to the Tribune after the press conference, Nutter said the report would be used as a launch pad for a massive lobbying effort in Washington, D.C., urging the federal government to invest directly with cities. Officials were already working on a draft of a condensed report that will prioritize the mayors’ concerns. It is expected in the fall, Nutter said. It will also be used in discussions with various state governors.

A lack of investment will cost more in the future, said Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Calif.

“Underinvestment in infrastructure, there is going to be costs in the long term that are going to impact everything else that we do,” he said.

Perhaps more important than the report was the obvious frustration of mayors from cities, large and small, felt with the country’s political leaders, particularly Congress.

“We need Congress to do their job, so Americans can get a job,” Nutter said.

Others were even more outspoken.

“We’re done asking the federal government for help,” said Mayor Frank Ortis of Pembroke Pines, Fla. “We’re going to take action and tell the federal government our cities need help. And, we’re going to lead the way. We want action. We’re going to go to the Hill and say we want to put our people to work.”

Using House Speaker John Boehner as an example, Mayor Donald Plusquellic of Akron, Ohio, said the partisan divide, fueled by the tea party, has paralyzed Congress.

“He treats us like crap,” Plusquellic yelled at one point during the press conference.

After the meeting, he explained that traditionally, Congressional and administration leaders from the cabinet level down have taken the time to meet personally with the mayors of large cities in their states but that Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has not.

“He used to be a pretty good guy,” Plusquellic said. “It used to be Democrats and Republicans working together. We have this partisanship now.”

Plusquellic said he’s met with Boehner’s staff but not the Speaker, but if he could sit down with Boehner he’d urge him to remember the old days.

“Sitting down and talking to people works,” Plusquellic said. “He treats all of the mayors and the leaders of this country like crap.”

“It’s symptomatic of what’s going on with Congress. If you’re not going to listen to 90 percent of the country … in November we’ll see if 90 percent of the country listens to you,” said John Dickert, mayor of Racine, Wis.

Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, Ariz., explained that the frustration has been building for years.

“Every mayor in the room has been through the fire over the last three or four years. Every mayor in the room has had to make decisions we didn’t like,” said Smith. “Our frustration boils over because at both the state and national level we don’t see our legislators taking the same approach. It’s frustrating.”

Contact Philadelphia Tribune Staff Writer Eric Mayes at (215) 893-5742 or emayes@phillytrib.com.



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The Philadelphia Tribune
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