When George Bush and Bill Clinton came to Los Angeles to tour riot-torn neighborhoods, they came without even a hint of national urban policy in mind. In fact, they offered little more than pious hand-wringing, exhortations to prayer and cooperation and solemn promises not to promise anything.
When it became obvious that this do-nothing posture wouldn't sell among voters, the President and the Democratic Congress, in a flurry of self-satisfied bipartisanship, produced a pitifully inadequate urban aid package. Ironically, the package's total $6-billion price tag is what American taxpayers shell out every two weeks to defend the cities of Western Europe and Japan against a nonexistent military threat.
How many more American cities will be ablaze before the President and Congress finally junk the Cold War priorities that are bankrupting us and commit our national treasure to rescuing America's cities, towns and people? Here's the kind of rescue plan we need:
--Congress should re-enact general revenue sharing and return $25 billion--$100 per resident per year--to the cities and towns of America. Los Angeles would get $297 million; San Diego, $88 million, Fullerton, $10 million. Local elected officials and local citizens would decide how to best use the no-strings-attached money. Thousands of people would be put to work repairing and rebuilding infrastructure as well as overcoming homelessness, poverty and violence in our cities.
--Congress should enact a program of revenue sharing for public schools and send $15 billion--$375 per student per year--to America's public school districts. This would be enough to hire or rehire nearly 400,000 teachers, teachers' aides and support staff. Class sizes could be cut sharply, quickly improving the quality of education.
--Establish a program of mandatory liability insurance for all those who purchase or possess handguns. The $50-a-year fee would go into a multibillion-dollar public insurance fund that would have three purposes: to compensate innocent victims of violent crimes; to hire more community-based police officers and prosecutors who would put truly violent criminals behind bars, and to buy back handguns--by the millions--in order to take them out of circulation and reduce the level of violence in our neighborhoods.
--Congress should adopt national health-insurance legislation now, appropriating $40 billion per year to make the system both universal and comprehensive. National health insurance means better health care for everyone--and the survival of America's hard-pressed public hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms.
Properly written, national health insurance legislation would also provide total coverage and quality care for AIDS victims and provide cost-effective access to prenatal care and programs for drug treatment, alcohol recovery and smoking cessation. And it would include a federally insured right to contraceptives and the right to a safe, legal abortion anywhere in the United States.
--The President and Congress should provide $20 billion a year for stepped-up environmental protection. In addition to toxic cleanup, this should include a national commitment to put America's scientists and engineers to work designing and building a series of world-class metropolitan rail systems that would at once improve mobility, reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, clean the air and free our economy of dangerous dependence on foreign oil.
This $100-billion urban aid program--truly a program of national reconstruction--doesn't require new taxes. But it does require entirely new national priorities that capitalize on the end of the Cold War and cut the military budget by at least half. Now is the time to remove all U.S. forces from Europe and Japan, halt nuclear weapons testing and end foreign military aid. After taking these steps, we would still have the strongest and most modern military force on Earth.
But we'd have something else, too. We'd have a $150-billion-per-year peace dividend--a job-rich peace dividend that would not only address urban needs but also provide $50 billion for honest deficit reduction, conversion planning and guaranteed employment and income support to demobilized soldiers and civilian defense workers.
Yes, let's rebuild L.A.; but while we're at it, let's rebuild America.