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Mayor’s Corner: Obama should plan progressive approach to a “New Deal”

By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.

Mayor of Lewiston

In my column last week, entitled “It is high time for another ‘New Deal’ to create jobs,” I pointed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” that brought us out of the “Great Depression” as a means of putting people back to work by creating jobs that built a number of projects that are still in use today. People who were poor and had lost hope began to regain their dignity that they felt they had lost.

Last week, I also pointed out the infrastructure needs of Lewiston, which are mirrored all over the country. Certainly we have the needs; all we need is a bold effort to work to satisfy those needs. Of course it won’t be cheap. Anything worthwhile never is. As I mentioned last week, it takes money to make money. Once people begin to work at jobs that pay a decent living wage, they will spend it thus circulating those dollars for the benefit of all.

So how do we begin with a progressive approach to a “New Deal” that I believe President Barack Hussein Obama should employ?

Being a firm believer in the fact that the union movement created the middle class that we used to know, but may no longer exist, I tend to look at what unions may be proposing to create jobs. After all, they represent America’s workers despite the fact that after being demonized for so long that they represent an ever-decreasing membership.

I now wish to share with you the “Jobs Agenda” of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, which is more commonly known as the AFL-CIO.

They point to the fact that Wall Street got its bailout, and now it’s time for Main Street to get its bailout. Below are the five steps the AFL-CIO proposes the Obama Administration should take to help jobless workers and put them back to work.

Extend the lifeline for jobless workers. They propose that unemployment benefits be extended along with additional food assistance and the expansion of COBRA health care benefits for another year. By not doing so, we will see more home foreclosures, bankruptcy and loss of health care. By extending these benefits, more of those dollars will continue to boost personal spending and create jobs for the benefit of our economy.

Rebuild America’s schools, roads and energy systems. I need not elaborate more, as this was the message I tried to convey last week. To support the need, simply take a ride around town or, for that matter, any town in America.

Increase aid to state and local governments to maintain vital services. Obviously, the same needs exist as those I mentioned last week and those mentioned above. The AFL-CIO points to “state and local governments and school districts have a $178 billion budget shortfall this year alone—while the recession creates a greater need for their services.”

States and local governments provide front line services that need to be maintained for the common good. States and local governments have had to cut services in order to balance their budgets. In doing so, they have eliminated thousands of jobs and only added to the jobless numbers resulting in less spending which in turn only contributed to the recession.

Certainly, in the last few years, we have minimally raised regressive property taxes in Lewiston while eliminating jobs. We had no other choice as cuts at upper levels of government only magnified our problem resulting in our simply contributing to the economic problem. Magnify that throughout the cities, towns and states throughout America and it is easy to see that we merely extend the problem for a longer period and at a greater level.

Put people to work doing work that needs to be done. Here is what the AFL-CIO has to say: “If the private sector can’t or won’t provide the needed jobs, the government should step up to the plate, putting people who need jobs together with work that needs to be done. These should never be replacements for existing public jobs. They must pay competitive wages and should target distressed communities.”

By the way, Lewiston has the two poorest census tracts in the state. Oh, what we could do with an infusion of federal dollars to put our people to work!

Put Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds to work for Main Street. They state that the bank bailouts helped Wall Street, now they suggest that the billions of dollars left over from that bailout be used to create jobs by enabling community banks to lend money to small and medium-size businesses that will begin to hire workers.

There are those who say President Obama’s Economic Stimulus didn’t work. I say the opposite; it simply wasn’t large enough. It was a timid approach to an enormous problem that needed a major infusion. Just think how bad things would be if our banks had failed and the auto industry had died. We would be in a greater mess. We are still in a mess and there is a need for more stimuli!

In a New York Times op-ed written by multi-billionaire Warren E. Buffett, he writes: “Our leaders have asked for ‘shared sacrifice.’ But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.”

We have a great many experiencing pain in this country: the jobless, the working poor and the elderly. Washington elected officials and, in particular, the Tea Party Congressmen, as well as right here in Augusta, Governor LePage, are asking for these people to “share the pain,” while leaving the super-rich untouched. They only want to cut spending without raising any revenue (taxes) on the rich and corporations. As a matter of fact, they want tax cuts for them.

Remember what I wrote last week? I wrote, if they are “job creators,” then where are the jobs? Weren’t the Bush-era tax cuts supposed to create jobs? The rich have had tax cuts for 10 years now and our unemployment has only gotten worse. They have only enriched themselves.

Common sense dictates that cuts for the rich will only make matters worse for the middle class, jobless, working poor and the elderly. If you fit in one of these categories, please take notice and talk to your elected representatives in Washington and to your governor.

In speaking to my President Obama; Mr. President, please be bold with your jobs plan. Don’t wimp out, as you have wimped out on the healthcare plan, wimped out on raising the debt ceiling and wimped out on deficit reduction by not creating revenues. Please remember, “wimps” finish last!

See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at


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