Niagara Gazette — Officials in the city of Niagara Falls took part in a discussion about the current fiscal crisis with President Barack Obama himself on Wednesday.
Obama talked to officials from the Falls as part of a special conference call involving mayors and municipal leaders from across the country.
Falls leaders, including Mayor Paul Dyster and City Administrator Donna Owens, listened to Obama during a previously scheduled afternoon luncheon of the Task Group to Create a Healthier Niagara Falls, which was held at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.
In an interview following the conference call Wednesday evening, Dyster said Obama and his staff arranged the call as part of a broader effort to rally local support for his push to maintain Bush era tax cuts for the middle class.
The president has been negotiating with Republican lawmakers in recent weeks on a plan to avoid sharp tax increases and spending cuts which would kick in early next year. Obama has called upon GOP leaders to extend tax cuts for middle-class Americans while letting tax rates go up for wealthier taxpayers.
"Today’s conference call with President Obama spoke volumes to his commitment of inclusion of all people in the tough decisions he has to make for our Nation,” Owens said in the release from Dyster's office. “The President empowered the public with information of the economic crisis facing this nation if a bipartisan resolution is not found. With this information, citizens can now make informed decisions and use their voice to reach their Congressional representatives.”
City officials said the Obama administration believes failure to extend the cuts for the middle class would cause the typical American family to pay an additional $2,000 in taxes beginning Jan. 1.
"He focused on what is his clear priority in this and that is trying to maintain the middle class tax cuts," Dyster said. "If all of that money is out of the economy in the first half of 2013, I think we risk getting into a second floor of the recession here and I don't think anyone wants that."
Wednesday's conference call also featured a brief question-and-answer session, according to Dyster. That portion of the conference call featured questions from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.
Dyster said the question asked by Dyer involved the potential impact of middle class tax hikes on communities like Orlando, which, like Niagara Falls, relies heavily on income from industries driven largely by discretionary income, including travel, tourism and entertainment.
In Niagara Falls, which city officials said hosted more than 8.5 million visitors this year, the impact could prove challenging to are hotels, restaurants, and attractions, which produce revenues totaling $491 million in the Niagara region, according to visitor statistics from the organization Longwoods International Research.
"That tax refund check is oftentimes looked on as vacation money,” Dyster said. "If there was a failure to renew the tax cuts for average, middle class families, that could definitely impact tourism in the coming year. I think that was very germane to our situation in Niagara Falls."