Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eric Massa Town Meeting

Congressman Eric Massa held a town meeting at the Alfred Station fire hall on February 14 drawing about 35 people and bringing along a stack of papers – the Stimulus Bill on paper. He had no prepared statement but took questions and comments from constituents most of whom seemed interested in, if not appreciative of, his answers.

Before he voted, Massa read the whole bill with the help of staff. There were, after all, hundreds of pages dumped on the Congressman. “Nobody likes this whole bill,” Massa said, “but 150 of the world’s leading economists commented on it and every one of the said we must pass the bill.”

The bill has within the reams of paper the largest reduction in taxes in the history of the US along with a patch for the AMT. It doesn’t have a lot of what has been theatrically reported in the press. For example, there are no ear marks.

Ear marks are shadowy grants that congressional members can slip to their constituents without much oversight. Every cent of this package must go through existing agencies and must create jobs. Every bit of it is transparent also. Every page is posted on the internet where anyone can read it and search.

Benefits to Allegany and Cattaraugus County will include miles of fiber to bring high speed internet to our rural area. There’s also money for water and sewer projects. Money will go to Medicaid and to Special Education in order to temporarily replace state budget cuts.

The goal of the package isn’t to give anyone fluffy sofas to lounge on or private jets to fly. It’s to keep the unemployment rate from going into double digits and it may not be enough to do that.

Massa said he has a 10 year old car. He’d like to replace it in the next 18 months if there’s money around for car loans. Hopefully there are a lot of people in that situation and if they have jobs they’ll spend and together we’ll pull each other up.

Much of the mass transit money was yanked in conference. People said it benefited only urban areas but Massa tried to make his colleagues see that his constituents in Hornell build those subway cars and that the benefit for expanded and improved mass transits is spread in a wide area when one includes those who create the trains and buses involved.

There’s crucial money for water lines. Most municipal water lines are 100 years old - 4 foot lengths of cast iron pipe put together with lead and oakum. Towns and cities with the money can insert a liner without digging up the old pipes and without disrupting service. Putting in the liner creates jobs and using them conserves water. There’s cash for US 86, I 99 and Route 219.

Massa’s office is working diligently to be certain that the 29th district’s share of the money moves out of the governor’s office and into the shovel ready projects that made it on the list. He invites your questions at 202-225-3161.

It’s important to understand that the Stimulus Bill is the one with tax cuts (the least effective stimulus) and infrastructure programs (spending that encourages more spending) but the TARP program is the Bush administration’s program that showered money on big banks.

Massa voted for the Stimulus Bill but against the release of TARP money. He said that he looks at votes as asks him himself 4 questions. “1. How do I feel about it? 2. Is it good for the 29th district? 3. Is it good for the country? 4. Is it constitutional?

The Stimulus Bill passed his personal test but TARP did not so Massa was one of only a smattering of Democrats to vote against TARP.

He wishes that the Stimulus Bill had money to build schools because so many schools are a mess and because building them means jobs.

He supports the money in the bill for digital medical records. That’s what is in the bill. Not socialized medicine but money to put medical records into digital format so that people don’t fill out the same forms over and over at every doctor’s office and multiple people do the same typing over and over with more opportunities for errors. If the records are in digital form then the information can be shared and because there are already privacy laws, each of us has a right to say who reads those records and who doesn’t.

The fight against this measure is being waged by the for-profit medical system which Massa called power hungry.

Massa was asked about the TARP bill and the banking system. Massa said that TARP put $700 billion into the hands of one person without transparency in the use of that mountain of money. When he asked bankers where the first chunk of TARP money went and they refused to answer. Why give them more secret money?

Banks have tax dollars, loaned at zero percent interest, and they are using it to fund credit card purchase which they charge 25% interest on. New Yorkers have some slight protection because of a state usury law but other people are worse off.

Massa talked about the lack of wisdom and foresight in having our local power companies sell themselves to foreign interests – a situation that has resulted in parts of the 29th district seeing twice the rate for electricity as last year. What will happen if the Erie Canal and the NYS Thruway are sold to foreign companies as is now under discussion?

The meeting, for the most part, focused on financial matters and most audience members both asked and listened. It lasted much longer than planned and ended with a promise for many more opportunities.  

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