Retired Gen.Wesley Clark would provide financial relief to states through a $40 billion tax-rebate plan and a $40 billion boost in homeland security spending if elected president of the United States, the Democratic candidate said in an interview with Stateline.org.
In addition, Clark said he would seek substantial tax cuts for working familiesincluding eliminating federal income taxes on families of four or more earning up to $50,000without raising the budget deficit.
A former NATO commander during the Clinton presidency and the conflict in Kosovo, Clark, 59, did not compete in the Iowa caucuses and faces his first test with voters in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. In a telephone interview with Stateline.org on Jan. 16, he said his plans to provide immediate aid to states would spur job growth and help states to avoid tuition hikes and health-care cuts.
Clark proposes to create a "State and Local Tax Rebate Fund" of $40 billion over the next two years, providing $20 billion for education and training, $10 billion to help states provide health care, and $10 billion for other state and local needs like law enforcement, corrections and social services.
His $40 billion investment in homeland security would be used to help protect ports, critical infrastructure and other areas vulnerable to terrorism, he said. The extra money also would help police and fire departments pay for equipment and staffing.
While he doesn't have the lawmaking experience of the other leading Democratic presidential candidates, Clark said he has the necessary leadership skills. "And I've actually been out there, working the issues of education and health care, family services, infrastructure. So I know what it's like at the bottom," he said.
An American Research Group poll showed Clark is battling Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry for second place in New Hampshire's primary behind former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Dean spoke to Stateline.org in June, [Dean: No Unfunded Mandates If Elected President, June 10, 2003]
Clark has focused his campaigning on New Hampshire and the Feb. 3 South Carolina primary. He also is on the Feb. 3 primary ballot in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico and Oklahoma. North Dakota has a caucus on Feb. 3.
Since declaring himself a Democrat in 2003 after years of voting Republican, Clark has staked out positions in favor of gay rights, affirmative action and environmental protection. He is pro-choice and pro-gun control.
A retired Army four star general, he has denounced the Bush administration for allegedly misleading the American people in the run-up to the war in Iraq and has said he would have favored a more international approach to dealing with Saddam Hussein.
Clark released financial records this month showing he earned $1.6 million in 2002, mostly from speaking fees and appearing on CNN as a military analyst. Before retiring from the Army, he earned $84,205 in 1999.
The West Point graduate and decorated Vietnam veteran is also a Rhodes scholar from Arkansas, as is former President Clinton, who reportedly encouraged him to run for president. He is author of a book, Waging Modern War, about the 1999 conflict in Kosovo. His campaign commercials say he can speak English, German, Russian, and Spanish. And he has won an endorsement from pop singer Madonna.
Following is the full text of Stateline.org's interview with Clark:
Stateline.org: Most states are struggling to get back on a firm fiscal footing after the economic downtown, and all the experts say state finances are likely to be tight for the foreseeable future. If you were president, what would you do about this?
Clark: We'd try to provide immediate aid to state and local governments, and that's why we're proposing a state and local tax rebate of $40 billion over two years to lessen the need for states and local governments to raise taxes--or raise state college tuition rates, or raise other fees, or cut critical expenditures like health care. My plan would keep state and local taxes down and jobs up by providing funding for education, training, Medicaid, health care, social services, infrastructure. In addition, I'm proposing a $40 billion investment in homeland security to help states better train and equip first responders and increase security in ports and other sensitive areas. You know, virtually every state has some sort of balanced budget requirement. These requirements are job-killers during recessions because they force states to engage in Great Depression-style economics. They cut spending and raise taxes when they should be doing the opposite. So, by providing state and local governments $40 billion over the next two years, in addition to these systems overseen under the homeland and economic security fund, I will help to protect America's families from feeling the effects of the state fiscal crisis and will help create jobs.
Stateline.org:How would your policies toward the states differ from those of the Bush administration?
Clark: Despite the fact that the state fiscal crunch has hurt the economy and working families, Bush has repeatedly chosen to devote resources to income tax cuts for the richest Americans. In fact, President Bush has worsened the state fiscal situation because many states link their tax system to the federal system, so that when the federal government cuts taxes, the states lose revenue. In addition, the Bush administration has increased unfunded mandates on states, falling short on promises for funding for reforms like No Child Left Behind. It wasn't until mid-2003 that the Congress, over the Bush administration's initial objection, provided states $20 billion in fiscal relief. Unlike President Bush, I believe if we're serious about jumpstarting job growth and economic confidence, America needs a serious plan to protect working families from the state and local fiscal crisis. I believe we have to reform our tax code. I want it to be more progressive. My tax reform plan will eliminate federal income tax for all families of four or more making $50,000 or less, and will provide a substantial tax cut for families making up to $100,000. Unlike President Bush, we're not going to increase the deficit to do this. Finally, we must fund the unfunded mandates so that states are better equipped to improve education, child care, and health care.
Stateline.org: Four of the last five presidents were governors before they were elected to the nation's highest office. How do you account for that? Is it an advantage to have been a governor in running for the White House?
Clark: Well, I think the first qualification for candidates running for presidential candidates has been leadership. What we see is that we need a higher standard of leadership in America, one that puts America's interests above special interests and promotes open, honest government, one that holds leaders accountable with real, measurable goals. And not just for the next election, but for the next generation. I'm running for president to bring that higher standard of leadership back to the White House. We want to make the tough choices, and bring the values of family, faith, patriotism, and inclusion to Washington. Together, we can turn America around.
Stateline.org: Does a non-governor, or in your case, a general, have a better feel for state problems?
Clark: Well, I think so, because we've lived in states and we know what those problems are.
Stateline.org: And being a non-governor is not a disadvantage?
Clark: The experience I've had is in leadership at all levels. And I've actually been out there, working the issues of education and health care, family services, infrastructure. So I know what it's like at the bottom. I know how to read legislation. I think this is the essential background-- is how to bring people together and lead-- and that's what I am.