GARY L. FLOWERS: Post Election Progressive Policy Priorities

by Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

Now that the 18-month, nearly 2 billion dollar, 2012 election for president of the United States of America is over the political question is settled as President Obama is set to begin his second term in January 2013. However, the question of policy priorities by the White House and Congress begs an immediate and beneficial answer for the dispossessed, downsized, and downtrodden (also known as hard-working, ordinary Americans and their children).

Of course, politics can be defined as who gets what, when, and how much.

In the coming weeks as Congress has to decide on issues of spending and taxing. As members deliberate the issues of employment, housing, education, and voting rights should be given the highest priority.

While the “official” national unemployment rate is listed a 7.8 percent the number does not include the 8 million Americans who have stopped looking for a job, thus increasing unemployment to 20%. Moreover, in communities of color around the nation the unemployment rate ranges from 20% to 60%. Both the private sector and government must take bold steps to put America back to work.

While tax breaks for small businesses are a governmental start they alone are woefully insufficient. Congressman John Conyers (MI), Ranking Member on the House Oversight Committee has a sensible legislative answer—tax the purveyors of pain on Wall Street, whose greedy actions destabilized the American economy and many others around the world. House Resolution 4277 would tax all stock and bond trades at 0.25 percent in order to generate approximately 150 billion dollars.

The “Full Employment and Training Trust Fund” would create two accounts to directly fund job creation and training programs. Monies taxed from Wall Street transactions would be distributed to each account, with 67% of revenues deposited in the job-creation account, and 33% going to the job-training account.

First, job-creation funds would be allocated based on the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) formula, modified to consider unemployment data. The U.S. Department of Labor would collaborate with local elected officials, labor officials, and community groups, who are closest to the needs of our communities on the ground, to identify workers for each project. Americans in need of a job would work on construction projects, renovating school buildings, weatherizing homes, neighborhood beautification, expanding access to broadband and wireless Internet, and other jobs. The program would be open to those who are unemployed for at least 26 weeks, or low-income individuals who have been unemployed for at least 30 days. As we employ Americans we must protect their housing.

The White House and Congress should place an immediate moratorium on home foreclosures. Make permanent the 9% tax credit as set out in the Housing and Economic Act of 2008, allowing stability in tax credit market by increasing affordable rental units and jobs. Maintain Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) grant funding levels to ensure first-time homeowner programs and the building of affordable rental housing. Appropriate funds to cover existing Section 8 vouchers in order to prevent increased homelessness. Increase VASH Vouchers for veterans’ housing as they transition from active duty. And restore Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s authority to help secure affordable housing for stable family and rental housing.

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 1 out of 4 young children are poor during the years of greatest brain development. Half of 4th graders in American schools cannot read and as much as 80% grow to adulthood without being able to read. Legislation should be immediately passed to raise federal funding for education from the current 9%, end child poverty, ensure every child can read at grade level by 4th grade, and decriminalize education system. Civic education must be part of progressive public policy.

Lastly, the President was on point when is his acceptance speech last Tuesday when he said that we must “fix” irregularities in voting. I agree. Currently, each state, county, and city has its own voting systems, ranging from computer ballots to paper ones; from government-owned machines to privately owned tabulators. Predictably, our nation has made a mess of voting for president and Congress. States currently have the power to conduct federal elections by the authority found in the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which must be restricted to non-voting issues.

What is needed is a unitary system with federal standards. In other words, one type of ballot and machine to count votes for president, vice president, and Congress. Such a system can be legislated by Congress. States would continue to conduct state offices of governor, state house, and state senate.

We as conscious citizens cannot drink the cool-aid of political victories absent the prodding of politicians for progressive policy. Call the White House and your member of Congress now!