By Mateen Kaul
Rep Pete Stark, D-Fremont, has called for investment in public infrastructure to create jobs and ease the current economic crisis, even if it means running up the deficit.
Congressman Pete Stark (2nd from right) speaks at an economic forum in San Leandro on Saturday, Oct 18.
“No city or county in the country doesn’t have a plan on the shelf for building something. We should invest in those plans so they’ll have to hire people to dig ditches, run wires and do the plumbing,” Stark said at an economic forum at the San Leandro Public Library on Saturday.
Stark voted against the bailout package for Wall Street recently passed by Congress, that allows the Treasury to buy up to $700 billion worth of bad assets from troubled banks. On several occasions during the two-hour event, he received loud, spontaneous applause from the audience whenever the vote was mentioned.
He said instead of the bailout, he would have supported a program that invested a few hundred billion dollars in public infrastructure, as well as to expand unemployment insurance and food stamps.
Stark said though this would require the government to “forget about the deficit for a year or two,” creating jobs would help pay back the debt in the future.
He suggested that taxes would also have to be raised to pay for the extra spending. “It’s something we’re going to have to face.”
Asked by Gretchen Lipow, a retired teacher, why the government didn’t start a public works program like that under President Roosevelt during the Great Depression, Stark said: “That’s exactly what we [the Democrats in Congress] hope to do after the election … quickly get a couple of hundred billion dollars for infrastructure projects.”
The forum was held in a packed room at the library, people standing in aisles as all the seats were filled. The audience was made up mostly of the elderly. Many of them were concerned about their pensions; they criticized Wall Street executives who got major bonuses despite presiding over failing companies.
“You need to go after the people who walked away with executive compensation with no consequences. They need to serve time,” shouted Cathy Souza from the audience, drawing loud applause.
Panel member William Sherwood-McGraw, from the California Public Employees Retirement System, assured the audience that their CALPERS pension benefits were protected by the law, but called for greater transparency in how much executives get paid in bonuses and in what form. He said the boards of companies should also be able to recover bonuses paid mistakenly or in a corrupt manner.
Margaret Gradie of the Central Labor Council of Alameda County presented slides showing that, since the 1970s, incomes had stopped rising for the middle class, but grown exponentially for the top 0.1% of the population. This had left a large proportion of the total wealth of the country in the hands of a few.
“That’s the real wealth distribution,” she said.
But she also presented the current crisis as an opportunity for reform, as help for working families was now at the top of the agenda in Washington DC.
Michael Wallace, an executive of Fremont Bank, reminded the audience of crises in the banking sector in the 1980s and 1990s, and how they had passed. “This too will pass,” he said. “There’s been a lot more media coverage and hysteria this time.”
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