The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Second District Candidate Herb Rule's Answers to Economic Questionnaire on the Delta

Posted on April 30, 2012 at 10:05 AM

Answers to Questionnaire from Herb Rule (D-AR), Second Congressional District candidate and an attorney for many years at the Rose law firm in Little Rock. He will be speaking at about 5:15 p.m. at the opening session of the Delta conference on Thursday evening, May 3 at the Clinton School of Public Service.

Congressman Tim Griffin (R-AR) currently represents the Second District and of course is a candidate for re-election and he will speak at 4:45 p.m. at the Clinton School on Thursday May 3.

Big picture” question on your priorities for job creation and economic recovery: It is clear that the economy requires a much stronger recovery to put people back to work, spending cuts, and more revenue to jump-start economic development while getting our fiscal house in order. What are your top priorities in job creation and economic recovery?

  1. Answer: a) Education—get a higher % of students to finish high school; and b) improve transportation and internet infrastructure including deepening channels of Arkansas and White Rivers.

  2. EPA and other regulations: The Delta Caucus partners are strong advocates for protecting the environment, but there are concerns that some of the new EPA regulations may inhibit job creation or retention and weaken the already fragile recovery. Would you support delaying implementation of EPA and other regulations that would inhibit job creation at least until the economy is fully recovered?

  3. Answer: Subject to additional information, I would insist that implementation of new regulations pass a rigorous fiscal impact analysis to assure the public that they would not hinder the recovery. For pending regulation of shale gas drilling and waste disposal, I would support implementation as scheduled with a fair opportunity for hearing all sides.

  4. Health care: The Delta suffers from inadequate access to affordable, high-quality health care. This is harmful both to our health and to our region’s economic situation. What policies would you advocate to improve health care in the underserved Delta?

  5. Answer: Enlarge enrollment at our medical schools,and recruit and support visa waivers for qualified foreign trained doctors.

  6. ENERGY: The expanded use of biofuels and other sources of renewable energy is supported by many people in the Delta as a way to create jobs, develop an independent source of energy and reduce dependence on foreign oil, and promote economic development.

a. Renewable energy: Do you consider renewable energy a priority for Arkansas? What steps would you advocate to promote the development of renewable energy? How would you work with the eight Delta states as well as other states that border the Delta to implement these programs?

b. Energy retrofits, the LIHEAP program to aid lower income customers, and energy efficiency are increasingly important in reducing energy costs. Energy retrofit programs such as Arkansas’ Home Energy Loan Assistance (HEAL) program (where the costs of retrofits are paid for by the savings in energy bills) have been successful. Would you support LIHEAP as well as energy retrofit programs similar to the HEAL program? If so, what would you recommmend to implement those programs?

c. Gas prices: We know that the federal government cannot totally control gas prices. But to the extent federal actions can deal with this issue, what policies in addition to expanded renewable energy–if any–would you support to reduce gas prices?

  1. Answer: a). Yes; combine efforts of Delta states to recruit renewable energy startups to our area; b) Yes; would support expansion of energy efficiency programs like the the ones established by the Arkansas Energy Dept and Public Service Commission; c) Subtly support the growing dissension among OPEC countries to obtain lower prices from increased competition.
  1. USDA programs: USDA has a broad array of tremendously important programs to the Greater Delta Region. We support a new farm bill that will fully fund these programs:

a. Rural Development: Rural Development programs are vital for rural small business and job creation, rural housing, infrastructure, expansion of broadband to the underserved Delta, telemedicine, renewable energy, and other constructive activities for rural America. There have been unwise attempts to make major cuts in such programs as rural housing, for example. In the farm bill and other legislation would you support full funding and oppose cuts in USDA Rural Development programs?

  1. Answers: a) Yes;

b) Yes; Yes c) Yes

b. Hunger and nutrition–The Delta unfortunately has extremely high rates of food insecurity, as well as diabetes, obesity and other nutrition-related diseases. Would you support full funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, WIC, aid to food banks, school meals, and the other key USDA nutrition programs in the new farm bill and other appropriations?

Many hunger and nutrition experts in the Delta oppose proposals to block grant SNAP and thereby reduce SNAP benefits by $127 billion (over 10 years). Would you oppose this policy?

b) Yes; Yes

c. Family farmers: While it may be inevitable that some farm aid for higher income farmers may be reduced or in some cases eliminated, there are many middle class, lower-income, and/or minority farmers who need aid to continue their essential work in raising the food and fiber we all use. Would you support full funding in the new farm bill and other appropriations for aid to limited resource and middle class farmers?

c) Yes

  1. The Delta Regional Authority has done a fine job with its limited resources, but has been seriously underfunded throughout its brief history. When the legislation was signed into law in 2000 with bipartisan support, its funding level was envisaged at $30 million annually. During the early Bush administration that funding was cut sharply to $5 million, and since then the agency’s supporters at grassroots, state and federal levels have raised its funding to approximately in the range of roughly $12 million through the energy and water appropriations bill and another $3 million through USDA Rural Development.

The DRA is a relatively new agency in our region: Since its creation ten years ago, the DRA has worked diligently to improve the lives of the 10 million people who live in the Delta. Targeted investments in each of the eight states has created over 6000 jobs and retained nearly the same number of jobs. With a leverage ratio of 23:1, the Delta Regional Authority leveraged $1.4 billion in private investment with DRA projects and helped 17,000 families gain access to clean water and sewer service.

In addition to this impressive targeted investment program, the DRA has many other constructive activities, such as the Delta Doctors Program that has placed over 150 doctors in underserved parts of the Delta; a series of strategic plans on issues such as transportation, health care, broadband and other key issues; the Delta Healthy Initiative and other issues. Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill, Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Mike Marshall, the eight governors of the DRA states and the entire DRA team forge partnerships throughout the region. Local development districts are key partners, as are the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development offices in the region and state economic development departments.

Given the DRA’s impressive track record, would you oppose cuts to the DRA until the economy strengthens, on the grounds that it makes no sense to cut funding for a program that helps create jobs and improve infrastructure during a weak economy?

When the economy recovers and the increase in revenue from having more people at work strengthens the budget, would you support an expansion of the funding at least up to the original level of $30 million?

  1. Answers: a) Yes b) Yes

  2. Finding the budgetary resources needed to invest in the domestic economy: We need for our nation’s elected officials to tell us where they will make spending cuts and where they will raise revenue in order to reduce the deficits and find the funding to invest in domestic economic recovery in the Delta and throughout the rest of the country.

a. Reductions in foreign military interventions and exorbitant weapons systems to provide funds for America’s economic recovery: By far the largest potential areas for spending reductions are the military budget, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. While there are many different points of view, many people in the Delta would not support cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

In reducing the deficits, many people believe that one of the key areas for spending cuts is to reduce military spending on foreign interventions and exorbitant weapons systems, in order to have more funds to invest in the domestic economy. (We know that a premeditated, major act of aggression against the United States would of course require the country to defend itself, so that kind of calamitous event would obviously change the situation.) But currently, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, would you agree that military spending should be substantially reduced, and if so what level of funding cuts would you support?

b. Revenue from highest income brackets: Even with substantial spending cuts in the military and other areas for reduced spending, the deficit are so massive that much greater revenue will be needed to stop the flood of red ink. Reliable polls show that roughly two thirds of the wealthiest people themselves would approve of this in order to get the deficits under control.

Would you support higher taxes on higher income people in order to reduce the deficits? In particular, would you support a surtax on incomes of $1 million a year? If you would support a surtax, would you recommend a 5% rate or what level would you support?

Priorities in spending: In choosing priorities for spending cuts, many people in the Delta would oppose cuts to programs that create or retain jobs or provide aid for the most vulnerable populations that are most damaged by the recession, especially in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, aid to senior citizens, hunger and nutrition, flood control and disaster relief, veterans and housing; therefore, would you oppose cutting spending for these job creation and vital programs for the most vulnerable populations?

  1. Answers a) Yes; at least 15% over 8-10 years, with medical protection and job training for troops separated from duty; b) Yes; No–I believe surtaxes needlessly increase uncertainty of revenue and tax wrangling.

I think it more productive and fair to raise increased revenue through increasing graduated rates and reforming the Internal Revenue Code .

  1. Transportation and other infrastructure: There have been very unfortunate and unwise delays in passing the new highway bill. Not only in this bill but in many infrastructure areas, there is substantial support in the Delta for major infrastructure and job creation investments, which would not only get the economy rolling but also repair our seriously deteriorating infrastructure. The WPA investments are a successful model for this type of beneficial investments.

Would you support a major, WPA-like program of job creation by major expansion and improvements in schools, roads (including the Interstate 69 Corridor and the entire Delta Development Highway System plan), bridges, broadband, rails, inland waterway systems and other essential infrastructure?

  1. Answer: Yes

  2. Housing: In addition to the highly unfortunate and ill-advised efforts to cut funding for USDA rural housing programs, many people in the Delta believe that one of the weaknesses of the federal economic recovery programs has been thus far an inadequate program of cleaning up the mortgage and housing crisis. USDA’s new pilot program to help families refinance in the hardest hit states is a good start. But it should be expanded.

Would you agree that much more aggressive action needs to be taken to reduce the numbers of foreclosures and reduce the mortgage debt of many Americans whose housing values have declined?

There are differing points of view about providing aid to the many home-owners who are struggling with foreclosures or heavy mortgage debt. Some believe that these people made unwise decisions regarding their mortgages and should be punished to set an example and avoid future unwise decisions. Others emphasize more that the recession and housing collapse was so severe, difficult to predict, that foreclosures harm not only the ones who lose their homes but their neighbors who have their housing values reduced, and that the damage to the economy from foreclosures and massive mortgage debt is so widespread that the priority should not be in punitive action against those in distress but in removing this road block to economic recovery.

Many housing experts believe that both points of view have some merit, but they emphasize that no one should pay more than 30% of their income for housing and a program that adjusts the length of payment for mortgage rather than foreclose could serve to fill both needs. The homes could remain occupied, saving property values for neighbors & helping owners keep their homes.

Which of these points of view has more merit, and what is your position regarding an aggressive program of federal aid in reducing mortgage payments and preventing foreclosures?

  1. Answers a) Yes, dependent on the knowing approval of each borrower after negotiation with lenders;

b) Based on my lending and bankruptcy experience,neither alternative is as fair or would provide as much relief as a program to reduce debt to the current value of the property, and the interest rate to current market level, similar to a bankruptcy ‘cram-down.’