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.

First District Congressional Candidate Scott Ellington (D-AR) Answers to Questionnaire

Posted on May 18, 2012 at 04:13 PM

Questionnaire for Congressional Candidates on Economic Issues: Answers from Scott Ellington, prosecutor, northeast Arkansas

This is another response in our series of questionnaire answers from key Congressional races in the Delta.The other First District candidates’ answers can be found in the link to “Caucus Articles” on this website.

“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?

My priorities to jump start economic development would be to work on building and repairing infrastructure and increase funding for education and training. To jump start economic development we must put people back to work. We could start by developing a WPA-type program of building and repairing the infrastructure in this part of the state. I believe the best way to create long term jobs in our part of the state is to take advantage of our state’s two year colleges and provide funding for job training and education necessary for the current job market. We can bring companies here to the middle of the country – on the Mississippi River within hours of the FedEx headquarters to capitalize on just-in-time industry trends.

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?

The EPA has an important role in ensuring that future generations have the same, or better, opportunity to enjoy and leverage this nation’s natural resources. The EPA was created in response to decades of heavy industrial pollution directly into the environment. Heavy metals, detergents and other cancer causing toxins were dumped into our rivers, our air and land. Stopping it was a moral imperative and something Democrats can take pride in. That said, the EPA’s reinterpretation of decades old regulations must stop and I would support legislation delaying implementation of EPA and other regulations that would inhibit job creation

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?

I support the Delta Doctors Program and would support other programs that would provide low cost loans to build clinics and pharmacies in the underserved areas. I would support loan forgiveness programs for physician assistants, nurse practitioners, doctors, dentists, and pharmacists who locate in underserved areas. I would support paying such professionals sufficiently to encourage them to remain in those areas.

Energy: The expanded use of biofuels and other sources of renewable energy are 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?

We should make it the policy of the United States to incentivize development of biofuel resources. I believe Congress should restore the mixing credit for biofuels.

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 recommend to implement those programs?

Yes, I would support LIHEAP and HEAL programs. Electrical co-ops must find ways to reduce the pull on the energy grid to avoid the costs associated with building new energy producing plants. That means helping customers better insulate their homes, run more efficient appliances and improve customer awareness of costs and consequences. I believe that the government can and should secure low cost loans for the co-ops and utilities to distribute to assist with HEAL and LIHEAP. The benefits are two-fold: the energy consumption goals are advanced and we put people to work right away in the construction and labor market that would be energized by the project.

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?

Gas prices are out of control for the same reason the housing market crashed: Wall Street is out of control. Chinese demand for oil is unyielding, so speculators and traders buy it and resell it at higher and higher prices. The Chinese get gouged, the traders and speculators get rich and the rest of us pay the price, at the pump, as usual. The role of the federal government is this: step in and stop the price fixing schemes that are currently legal on Wall Street. Further, I would be open to removing gasoline from the futures market.

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?

Yes, I would oppose cuts to USDA Rural Development programs. We must have housing for agriculture workers and others choosing to live in our agricultural communities.

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?

Yes, in rural America the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC are necessary. I would oppose proposals to reduce SNAP benefits.

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?

Yes, I would support full funding for limited resource and middle class farmers.

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?

I would oppose cuts to the DRA and would seek to increase funding for worthy programs.

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?


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?

The military budget is one of the largest discretionary spending line items. I foresee reductions being made there as both wars wind down. I am not sure what level I would support at this time until I have the opportunity to study the matter further.

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?

No, because a surtax on the rich lacks integrity. I would support going back to the tax levels of when President Bill Clinton was in office and we had a budget surplus and 4% unemployment. That some corporations pay less than 10% in taxes is just the latest example of how the rats’ nest of federal tax rules and regulations are used to excuse massive corporations from paying their fair share, and that’s the problem. A surtax does nothing to address that. It’s time to reduce the size of the code, close cut-outs and loopholes and demand people and corporations to pay the share of taxes we’re all supposed to pay.

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?

I would oppose cutting spending for job creation and the above mentioned vital programs.

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?

I would absolutely support major job creation programs that improve our nation’s infrastructure. Much of our country’s infrastructure was built between the end of World War II and the mid 1970s.

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?

I do not believe it’s the role of the federal government to subsidize the losses facing the mortgage lending industry. Those lenders and their insurers on Wall Street placed avarice and greed above sound lending policy and risk analysis and we’ve already done more than we should have to staunch the consequences of those bad decisions. My belief is that those banks who received public funds should provide current homeowners an opportunity to shift to lessees in order to stop the cycle of debt and foreclosure. The costs of this should be born by those who caused the crisis: the banks and mortgage brokers and not more taxpayer funds.