Urban Politics #315 – November 23, 2011
By City Councilmember Nick Licata
Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.
THE OCCUPY RESOLUTION
On November 14th, the Seattle City Council passed Resolution 31337 which recognized the national grassroots citizen effort being made through the Occupy Movement in seeking solutions for economically distressed Americans at the federal and local levels. I introduced this resolution because the growing imbalance in our nation’s wealth demands the attention of the nation’s elected representatives. Go to my website http://www.seattle.gov/council/licata/occupy/ to learn more about the City Council’s actions and to find out what other cities are doing.
I see this movement as having similarities to fifty years ago, when there were demands for racial equality. Then political leaders responded by passing the Civil Rights Act and a slew of other legislation that created greater opportunities for people of color. And today we hear similar demands. Except in this case, it is our youth burdened with debt before they ever enter the job market, it is our homeowners who cling to their homes as they sink in value, it is our seniors who fear that their Medicare and social security will be sacrificed for some illusionary economic stimulus, and it is the loss of those same economic gains made by people of color since the Civil Rights Movement.
The public is justifiably angered as the vast majority at best tread water in this stagnant economy. This anger has manifested itself in occupation encampments around the nation since the Occupy Wall Street movement began on September 17th in New York City. While public opinion polls still show the majority support the OWS message, if not always the tactics, there continues to be nagging questions as to how our democratic institutions should respond. As author Steve Erickson wrote in American Nomad, “history is clear that democracy cannot long navigate a sea of national rage. Untempered by a rational, open dialogue, fury eventually consumes democracy rather than nourishes it, because it overwhelms our tolerance, our willingness to be reasonably informed, our determination to hold ourselves accountable for our actions.”
This tension can only be resolved when answers come from our elected representatives in the form of new laws that will set a strong and clear course of correction. Although much of what is needed must be undertaken at the Federal and State level, municipal governments can play an important role. Admittedly, one city alone cannot solve these problems. But City Councils, acting together, can build a national momentum toward addressing the inequality in wealth and income that has ushered in our great recession.
It is for that reason that I sent a request to over two dozen city officials across the nation, asking them to consider working together in issuing some common work program to make the changes we need. I will be following up with them to see how city officials can move beyond discussing where tents should be located to determining where our savings and investments should be. This extends to more than just where we park our reserve accounts, but how do we adjust our tax system? Cities, and other levels of government, have fallen into a spiral of exempting an ever greater portion of wealth from taxation, leaving fewer and fewer people to carry the public burden of maintaining our social contract and physical assets. We can see the evidence around us, as more homeless people are unsheltered living on the streets and our bridges and roads fall into disrepair, while local communities will no longer repair them through local regressive taxes like car tab fees.
Of primary interest to me is moving forward on legislation to make our banking and taxation system more accountable to the public. While the Seattle City Council will pursue a number of actions that are outlined in our resolution, those that I intend to work on, and will encourage other cities to do as well, are the following objectives:
- Reviewing banking and investment practices to ensure that public funds are invested in responsible financial institutions that support our community. This review should include evaluating City policies on responsible depositing and management of City funds.
- Considering future legislation to promote responsible banking and provide an incentive for banking institutions to invest more in our City, particularly with regard to stabilizing the housing market and supporting the creation of new businesses.
- Examining the number and geographic distribution of home foreclosures, along with lender information on those homes, including real estate owned homes. Gathering qualitative data on the circumstances and causes of foreclosures and the foreclosure methods and practices of lenders, including reviewing apparent inequities many people in Seattle face when lender foreclosure proceedings occur.
- Reviewing all tax exemptions or waivers to determine the impact of both tax shifts and lost revenue to the City against the economic and social benefits the exemptions are intended to bring to the City.
- Working with tax reform advocates to review past efforts and approach the State Legislature to establish an equitable tax structure.
It is my hope that the national Occupy Movement can ally itself with elected representatives and organizations like the New Bottom Line* to forge ahead with a clear agenda of demands, such as creating state banks –like North Dakota’s – to be owned and controlled by the citizens of a state. The objective of the march of Occupy Wall Street from New York City to Washington D.C. is another example of focusing on a clear goal: opposing the extension of the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, which have primarily benefited upper income families.
Meanwhile in Seattle, the City Council will move forward with a comprehensive approach, in response to the Occupy Movement, whose message, one of a broken economy due to a growing disparity in this country’s wealth, is one that we are all too aware of.
*Check out the New Bottom Line at: http://www.newbottomline.com/
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