Oswego County’s member of the U.S. Congress met with about 11,000 of his constituents Tuesday night on one of his frequent telephone conference call townhall meetings.
Democrat Bill Owens’ district stretches from Hannibal to his hometown of Plattsburgh — a distance of more than 230 miles that would take 4 and a half hours to drive. So meeting constituents on the phone is one way to cover a lot of ground.
Many of the 14 questions he took from people on the call focused on the economy.
“We need to revamp the tax code to make a fairer system,” Owens said in response to a question about tax breaks for businesses and the wealthy. “The wealthy need to pay a bit more.”
Several times, Owens noted that the last period of high jobs growth was during the Clinton administration, when tax rates for the wealthy were higher than they are now.
He said the Bush-era tax cuts were implemented without a plan to pay for them.
“We need a tax policy that’s practical and gets the job done,” he said. “Everyone has to pay their fair share.”
Owens told another caller that he has voted against tax breaks for companies that send their jobs overseas. He also frequently discussed the unwillingness of the Chinese government to stop devaluing its currency. Chinese money kept artificially undervalued makes Chinese imports more attractive at the expense of American-made products.
One caller, identified as Richard from Fulton, asked about the loss of manufacturing jobs, focusing on the recent shutdown of the Birds Eye food processing plant in Fulton.
“Is there any way we can bring companies back here without giving blind tax breaks to people like (Carousel Mall developer Robert) Congel?” he said.
Owens said more development is needed across his district, mentioning the need for an interstate highway across the North Country and the lack of broadband internet access in much of the region.
But he also said that there’s been a growth in the number of small farms.
“This is a very important growth area because we want to make sure local farms are supplying food to our communities,” Owens said. “We all need to support these folks. We need to go to the farmer’s market and buy the goods that are being brought in to the farmer’s market.”
He singled out Pulaski’s Fulton Companies for bringing manufacturing jobs back to the district from China.
Owens also noted that he is focused on finding ways to fill the more than 3,400 jobs that he says remain open across his district.
He said he’s working with the state Labor Department and other agencies to try to link people with those jobs. “We need to go about this creatively…to come up with creative ways to move employment forward. We are trying to work from the ground up, not Washington down.”