Guest Column

Mayor supports President Obama’s remarks on middle class

August 2, 2013
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In his July 24 speech in Galesburg, Ill., President Barack Obama laid out his economic vision for America. This is welcome news to mayors. Our communities have too long been on the receiving end of thoughtless and destructive federal regulation —regulation that has mandated local actions without providing corresponding support.

Focusing on specific economic outcomes ought to be a top national priority. The economic initiatives outlined by President Obama are a great first step and represent a strong complement to our own local efforts in a transforming American economy for the 21st century.

The middle class has been greatly impacted by the changing economy and we want to ensure that everyone has a chance to achieve prosperity with, as President Obama put it, “fair wages and benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and above all, to hand down a better life for (our) kids.”

Growing economic inequality in the nation means families earn less and have less to spend and save. It also means businesses lose their customer base.

Over the past several years we have seen a steady decline in federal investment in transportation, power grid improvements, roads and local communities. Businesses gravitate toward regions with state-of-the-art infrastructure. If we are to remain competitive as a region, we need to invest in infrastructure. What’s more, rebuilding infrastructure creates good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.

President Obama also pointed out the soaring cost of higher education that is straining the budgets of many American families. We need to make the investments in American education and scientific and medical research that are necessary to make this country a magnet for good jobs.

Grand Rapids is blessed to host numerous high-quality institutions, great universities, and medical and scientific research institutions, attracting thousands of students and researchers from all over the world and strengthening the local economy. Unfortunately, those institutions and students receive less and less support from the federal government, endangering the very cornerstone of a strong economy — an education that prepares our children and our workers for the global competition.

Another cornerstone of a strong and growing America is home ownership. We all dream of owning a place to call our home. We need to invest in housing stock in sustainable and energy-efficient ways. To use the president’s words, we need “a new push to rebuild run-down neighborhoods.” Our older homes need to be improved. We urge the federal government to support programs like Better Buildings, a proven program that has improved thousands of older homes in Grand Rapids alone using innovative energy audits and energy investments strategies and saving money for residents.

I applaud President Obama for his commitment to cities and for focusing on those matters that will improve outcomes in cities, large and small, all across America. There is no better rallying point for a unified and bi-partisan effort in Congress than the economic health of our cities and those who live in them.

George Heartwell is mayor of the city of Grand Rapids.

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