National Urban League
“Our country is in dire jeopardy as long as it has within its body politic a socially and economically deprived group of citizens, whether they be actually enslaved or denied the full benefits of equality and freedom by an insidious economic and psychological slavery.” – Whitney M. Young
Earlier this month, the voters of Kansas City, Missouri, handily approved three ballot questions that will allow the city to borrow and invest $800 million over 20 years to improve roads, bridges, sidewalks and flood control, and to build a new animal shelter. They also approved the One City Initiative, a one-eighth-cent sales tax to fund economic development in the city’s struggling central core.
Not only did large majorities vote in favor of the measures, but voter turnout was nearly double that of last year’s mayoral election.
One of the most tireless – and effective – advocates for the One City Initiative has been President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City Gwendolyn Grant. In a widely-circulated guest editorial in the Kansas City Star, she argued, “An increase of one-eighth of one cent is not too much to pay to create jobs, reduce crime and spawn economic development on Kansas City’s East Side. An increase of one-eighth of one cent is not too much to manifest our commitment to creating healthy communities in the central city.”
The lesson is clear: Americans want a comprehensive plan to fund urban infrastructure improvements, and they are willing to invest in their nation’s future.
Urban communities were disproportionately battered by the Great Recession, and the fragile economic recovery has been slow to reach them. Several times in our history, the National Urban League has promulgated the concept of an urban Marshall Plan – modeled on the massively successful economic development initiative that lifted Europe out of poverty in the wake of World War II. Last year we announced the development of The Main Street Marshall Plan: From Poverty to Shared Prosperity, the final version of which will be unveiled May 2 as part of our State of Black America Empowerment Summit in Washington, D.C.
While critical of many of the proposals and policies of President Trump, the National Urban League has remained cautiously optimistic about his promise to invest $1 trillion in the nation’s infrastructure, with inner cities being the major beneficiary. If the plan includes a strong jobs-building component that guarantees minority business participation and employment for workers in high-unemployment neighborhoods, we could support such a bill.
Congress, however, traditionally has resisted such infrastructure proposals. Obstructionists blocked President Obama’s $50 billion “roads, rails and runways” proposal in 2010 and his American Jobs Act in 2011. They blocked his proposals for an infrastructure bank, a national high-speed rail network and the Grow America Act (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America).
Congress must heed the results of Kansas City’s infrastructure referenda and respond to the clear will of the American people. As my predecessor Whitney M. Young wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 1963, in calling for a domestic Marshall Plan, “We have the material and spiritual resources as a country to meet the challenge and accomplish the urgent task ahead. All we need is the will to act and the spirit of decency and sacrifice which abounds in our land.”
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.