After raking in campaign funds at events in Washington state and California the past two days, President Obama was in Denver on Tuesday to promote his jobs plan in a state that he carried in 2008 but looks to be in play come 2012.
While repeating now-familiar talking points about the $447 billion American Jobs Act during his speech at Abraham Lincoln High School, Obama also targeted his plug to Coloradans. He told the audience that the bill will save the average working family in Colorado $1,700 in taxes next year.
“Republicans say they’re the party of tax cuts,” he said. “Let them prove it. Tell them to fight as hard for tax cuts for working Americans as they do for the wealthiest Americans.”
Obama rebuffed Republican accusations that his plans to eliminate tax breaks for the rich were tantamount to "class warfare."
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"Well you know what? If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or teacher makes me a warrior for the working class, I'll wear that charge as a badge of honor," Obama said. "Because the only class warfare I've seen is the battle that's been waged against the middle class in this country for a decade."
Obama's jobs bill includes $75.5 million for modernizing Denver County schools like Lincoln High, where the science labs were built in the 1960s.
“The world has changed since them,” Obama said. “We need to do everything we can to prepare our kids for it. We need to do everything we can to make sure our students can compete with any student anywhere in the world.”
Denver was the fifth metropolitan area Obama has visited in the weeks since he sent his jobs bill to Congress. While 74 percent of voters in Denver County voted for Obama in 2008, a report released today revealed that municipalities are increasingly insecure about their employees’ futures.
Nearly one third of the nation’s cities are laying people off this year and 46 percent are modifying health care benefits for city workers, according to the study. Obama’s jobs bill, even if passed exactly as proposed, would not shore up city budgets.
“When you measure the amount of federal funds that go into municipal budgets, it’s really quite low,” said Michael Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois Chicago and co-author of the study. “Thirty years ago, cities got 15 percent of their revenue from the federal government. Now it’s between 4 to 5 percent.”
Still, even as Obama’s approval ratings sit at a new low of about 40 percent, the big-city crowds are expected to remain warm nationwide.
“I don’t see any problem with the urban base,” said Jerry Austin, a veteran Democratic strategist and former campaign manager for Jesse Jackson. “That’s the one thing that’s kept his numbers in a fighting position.”
Denver boasts that its residents are the most educated in America, but its public school system has struggled historically. About 96 percent of students at Lincoln High are on free or reduced lunch programs and the school is failing to meet standards for student achievement.
What cities can hope for, according to Pagano, are federal funds that may trickle down from the state.
“What the stimulus did was preserve state support for municipalities,” Pagano said. “With that reaching its end, states are starting to make reductions in aid to municipalities.”
Even before Obama landed in Denver, Republicans denounced the appearance as a campaign speech.
“Barack Obama’s visit to Denver today is on the heels of a massive West Coast fundraising swing and after the White House officially declared that the season of governing is over and that the campaign season is now in full swing,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said. “Team Obama is trying to fool the voters again trying to pretend that this visit is about creating jobs for Colorado, but Obama’s supposed ‘major’ jobs speech today isn’t geared toward jobs for America or Colorado, it’s a taxpayer-funded campaign event to really save his own job.”