The National League of Cities estimates that 91% of local officials report insufficient funding is the top factor impacting their decisions when it comes to local infrastructure projects. Oxford is definitely in that 91%. As communities across the nation are navigating how to restart their economies and recover in the wake of the pandemic, I had the privilege of traveling to Washington, D.C. last week to visit with Mississippi’s U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith to advocate for Oxford’s infrastructure needs.
One of Oxford’s greatest challenges is funding for infrastructure, both above and underground, to meet the needs of our growing community. Almost every time I am at the grocery store or in public, I am asked, “When are y’all going to do something about these roads? When are you going to do something about this traffic?” The pandemic highlighted the necessity of basic infrastructure for public health and how cities can support and protect our residents, businesses and keep our economy moving.
The federal government has talked about infrastructure funding and improvements for as long as I can remember, but local governments have largely been left “holding the bag” and have to fend for themselves when it comes to roads, bridges, water and even sidewalks. Communities like Oxford face the same infrastructure challenges as much larger cities, but have to do it with less resources. The city of Oxford has been fortunate to be able to keep our roads, bridges, sidewalks, water and sewer system well maintained in spite of limited resources. During my last four years as mayor, Oxford has invested more than $72M in infrastructure and capital improvements.
I think we can all agree that successful infrastructure, successful recovery and revitalization relies on cities and local communities and their governments having the resources that they need to play their part.
I left our nation’s capital encouraged that some help is on the way. Bipartisan work seems to be happening on the transportation front, which led me to believe communities across our country will be the winners if our leaders can find compromise and a path forward together.
In the meantime, Oxford continues to work cooperatively with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to advance key project initiatives for improvements at University Avenue and Highway 7. Thanks to state Sen. Nicole Boyd and state Rep. Clay Dewees, who represent Oxford, the Mississippi Legislature has provided funding to help address the critical safety and capacity concerns at this major intersection. With MDOT’s Transportation Alternatives Funding, Oxford will improve four pedestrian crosswalks along Jackson Avenue West adjacent to the University of Mississippi, which are much needed.
Our local LOU Partnership (consisting of entities in Lafayette County, city of Oxford and University of Mississippi) remains strongly committed to working together with our state and federal delegations to build on the economic recovery and to address the unique opportunities, challenges and growth dynamics faced by citizens in our area. We have specifically asked our federal delegation for funding for ready-to-move forward segments of the “Oxford Central Corridor” (Jackson Avenue West from University Avenue to Mississippi Highway 6).
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will be an important part of the puzzle in addressing our transportation infrastructure needs. I was honored to receive a call from him recently to ask how the U.S. Department of Transportation can meet the needs of small towns more effectively. I am excited that he is our transportation secretary because he clearly is focusing on contacting people “on the ground” to see what we need. Buttigieg was the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, where the University of Notre Dame is located, so he has a firm understanding of what we deal with each and every day. He understands that small cities have been at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing federal dollars.
Wicker and Hyde-Smith made it clear that we were a priority in getting additional funds for our infrastructure needs. Their efforts, combined with those of U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly, will result in getting much needed infrastructure assistance in our community. I am grateful that we have national representatives that are receptive to the needs of their local constituents, which certainly helps Oxford.
I was down the shore this weekend, enjoying the sea, the sun and the sweeping panorama of people without masks. Honestly, that was even more beautiful than the sunset over the Atlantic.
One of those sunsets was observed from an outside patio at a fantastic pizzeria just outside of Atlantic City. My Sicilian Square with “Momma’s” sauce was so good, I had to tell “Momma’s” son how much I loved it. He replied, with an almost wistful expression in his eyes, “Thank you. I only wish I had Momma here with me to help out.”
What I thought was a poignant reference to his deceased mother turned out to be the lament of a small business owner.
This wasn’t the first time that I’d heard a similar complaint from small business owners. It seems as if everyone who used to work in service industries prior to the pandemic either found better jobs elsewhere, preferred getting the extended monthly unemployment checks or left the job market altogether.
Pretty much the only people you see in the kitchens, on the scaffolding and hunched over cleaning offices and homes are the immigrants who don’t have the luxury of seeking unemployment benefits.
I’m not an economist, so I can’t offer an intelligent reason as to why this is happening from a financial perspective. I’m sure that businesses themselves were either forced to close or severely reduce their staffing during COVID, and then decided that they didn’t want to go back to pre-pandemic payrolls.
But I think there’s something else at play, here, and I see it in the rhetoric on TV and in the media: “We deserve better.” It’s the idea that some people are too good for the jobs they were doing at wages they didn’t like. Granted, the food service industry is notorious for underpaying their employees and unfairly expecting customers to make up for the miserly wages in generous tips. I’m no fan of the “slave” mentality some employers have.
But I honestly believe that the problem this time around is not with the demand, but with the supply. Or to put it differently, the lack of supply. Workers became accustomed to a few things this past year: Staying home, getting paid to stay home, getting told that they were right to stay home, getting warned that if they didn’t stay home and wear masks, they were unpatriotic, and getting used to having their egos stroked.
It’s really a generational thing, and I don’t mean age. There are some wonderfully motivated young folks out there looking for work and juggling multiple part time jobs, and then there are people my age and even older who are content to take three or four Zoom calls a day (hopefully not a la Jeffrey Toobin) and think that’s enough until quitting time.
I even have friends who said that if their employers require them to return to brick-and-mortar buildings, they’ll quit. One said her health is more important than her paycheck (funny how she doesn’t think that paying for doctor’s visits involves having a paycheck) and another said that she finally realized that there was more to life than the grind of her nine-month job as a teacher.
I remember my father, who worked three jobs during the day while going to law school at night. I remember my mother, who took the overnight shift as a bookkeeper, riding the subway from Logan into Center City and back again in the early morning hours. I remember stories about my grandfather Mike, who drove a trash truck for 20 years in Philadelphia, fell off, broke his back, was out of work for months and then went right back to the job. While he was in bed recovering, my grandmother took odd jobs while raising three young kids. My other grandmother drove a trolley while her husband worked in different restaurant kitchens.
I was privileged. I never had to work, and this is probably why I recognize the unique character of people who did. My few jobs while in school were vanity adventures, things I did so I could say I was “working.” One involved serving burgers at the old Roy Rogers at 54th and City Line. That job ended after I told a customer Happy Trails, as ordered by management, and was told “f- – you” by the customer. I also worked at the Valley Forge Music Fair as an usherette one summer, where I managed to run into Paul Anka and knock him down backstage while rushing to deliver show programs.
Again, I had it easy.
But I’m aware of how easy I had it, and I never thought that I deserved kudos just because I showed up for work. These days, that’s exactly what a lot of people think, and COVID has only made it worse. To be fair, it seems that the applicants for unemployment payments have decreased, ever so slightly, since the worst moments of the pandemic. But it’s the exception that proves the rule.
A country built on the honest labor of its citizens should never turn into a country that has to beg people to come back to work.
Let’s hope we figure that out before “Momma” runs out of sauce.
The Labor Department recently issued a bleak report confirming that the cost of living in America is skyrocketing. Americans were already facing higher prices at the gas pump, in the grocery store and throughout daily life coming out of the pandemic. But instead of improving, the trend has gotten worse. Prices rose by 5.4% over the previous year – the largest 12-month increase since the financial crisis of 2008. Even worse, American producers sold their goods at prices 7.3% higher than a year ago, indicating we are running headlong into inflation.
Mississippi is being hit particularly hard. The Labor Department reports that in our region, the price of goods went up by 7.3%. Mississippians are now paying a lot more for a tank of gas, a gallon of milk and basic necessities.
Biden stimulus leads
to higher cost of living
This massive price surge can be traced in large measure to congressional Democrats’ decision to spend $1.9 trillion in unnecessary “COVID relief” back in March. This decision came directly after the Republican-led Congress had passed five COVID relief bills in 2020 that were negotiated and passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Unlike those bills, the Democrats’ package was excessive, poorly targeted and encouraged many workers to stay home with a government check rather than rejoin the workforce. It also saturated the economy with newly printed money, leading to our current situation in which there are more dollars chasing fewer goods.
We warned our Democrat colleagues back in March that their spending plans would overheat the economy. Even Larry Summers, a longtime Democrat advisor who served under Presidents Obama and Clinton, said this unnecessary stimulus could cause inflation. Although we are nearly out of the pandemic, the Federal Reserve is continuing to print money to keep up with spending by congressional Democrats. In fact, since the pandemic began, the number of dollars in our economy has increased by a staggering 31%.
This flood of cash from Washington is causing American earnings, bank accounts and 401ks to shrink as a share of the economy. The loss of buying power is making it harder for Americans to afford a home, support a growing family and simply put food on the table. It could take months and even years for earnings to catch up with inflation. And when they do, many Americans may find themselves pushed into a higher tax bracket – paying more in taxes and earning less value in take-home pay. This is the hidden tax many Americans will feel because of President Biden’s inflation policies.
Democrats call for more trillions
Biden and his party’s leaders should be sobered by these recent developments. The surging prices across our economy are an early alarm bell that Democrats’ big spending agenda will invite runaway inflation, in addition to saddling our children with ever-growing debt.
Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently announced plans for a $3.5 trillion spending bill that will dwarf any bill Congress has ever passed. Sen. Schumer hopes to force this legislation through the Senate on a razor-thin party-line vote. If passed, this legislation would all but certainly throw our economy into more of an inflationary spiral – further eroding family savings and driving up the cost of living. I am urging Senate Democrats not to take this unwise path.