Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

State of city: Grim, but have faith, mayor urges

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup put his cheerleading skills to work Friday with a State of the City address reminiscent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Decrying our “steep economic downturn,” Walkup also insisted “we have what it takes” to survive.

“We must fight despair with confidence. We must overcome paralysis with hard work, and short-term thinking with strategic decision-making,” the mayor exhorted listeners.

But nothing can paint a happy face on the city’s $80 million deficit and, worse, its mounting joblessness.

Tucson’s unemployment rate rose to 6.5 percent in December – up from 5.9 percent in September, a huge increase from the September 2007 rate of 3.8 percent.

So the mayor was spot-on when he said, “In Tucson, in 2009, job No. 1 is jobs, jobs, jobs.”

But while Walkup urged continued city support of local business and of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc., which has been largely ineffective at bringing good jobs to town, he also said that in city government, “Furloughs and layoffs are on the table.”

Moments later, he called for investing money in programs to create jobs.

In our view, these statements do not compute.

Rather than lay off city workers in order to save money, then invest money in hopes of creating jobs, we urge the mayor and City Council to try the straightforward approach: Let city workers keep their jobs.

The municipal staff has been reduced repeatedly in recent years, and laying off more employees in this wretched economy would be a mistake.

The added unemployment would have dire repercussions for the city overall and a dangerous ripple effect on our entire community.

Just as physicians are taught to “First, do no harm,” so should the city first preserve jobs.

Walkup also heralded the advent of the modern streetcar, which we agree will rev up downtown revitalization.

And he ticked off a list of downtown projects that are proceeding apace and already are breathing new life into Tucson’s downtown.

We admire Mayor Walkup’s optimism in the face of veritable catastrophe. As he rightly notes, “difficult times will not last forever.”

But while the economy is foundering, we hope the city, local businesses and industries as well as nonprofits will do everything they can to keep their employees working.

Jobs, indeed, constitute the No. 1 issue these days. Every job lost hurts a family, reduces spending, cuts tax revenue and also may lead to increased demands for social services. Let’s keep Tucson working in 2009.

The mayor’s call for courage is inspiring, and all Tucsonans will do well to go forth with grit and confidence.

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