Unanimous Consent Request--Calendar No. S. 3405

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 29, 2018
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, I want to talk about trickle-down economics and give my colleagues an example of why it doesn't work, particularly in parts of the country that have long been neglected by the power structures in those communities.

Let's take, for example, South St. Petersburg, FL. St. Petersburg is a part of Pinellas County. It is one of our major cities in Florida. It is at the tip of a peninsula that wraps around Tampa Bay. South St. Pete is riddled with poverty. According to the Census Bureau, 16.4 percent of the people who live there live below the Federal poverty line, 6.7 percent of which have jobs, but they still live in poverty. Now, there is something wrong with that. If you have a job, you shouldn't be living in poverty.

What we know, as a result of a survey by the United Way, is that 44 percent of people in Florida, according to this survey taken in 2016-- 44 percent of the people in Florida, almost half--do not earn enough money to make ends meet. That means they don't have enough money for food, for housing, for healthcare, for transportation, and for child care--essentials for someone who is working to be able to have enough to live day to day. So there is something wrong with this.

We find people living in pockets of poverty all across this country, but I want to give an example of it in South St. Petersburg, FL. Many people there don't make enough to make ends meet and, of course, that means that you have to have both spouses working. Forty-four percent of the people do not have an economic situation that enables them to make ends meet. So what do they do to compensate? They work two, three jobs in order to compensate.

So in South St. Petersburg there are a lot of people who don't even have a job. It is not because they don't want jobs. It is because a lot of the established financial power--including banks, corporations, and big investors--in areas that are depressed like this one see it as a lost cause. They don't believe it has the economic potential to support new business.

I want to tell you a great success story about what a husband and wife team, Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy, found out when they tried to open a restaurant on 22nd Street in South St. Pete, an economically depressed part of the town that was long overlooked by those at the top of the economic ladder. I want to show my colleagues a picture of them. This is the Brayboys.

In fact, the building the Brayboys wanted to use for their restaurant sat idle for the previous 35 years. It was basically wasting away. When the Brayboys went looking for a loan to buy the building, every lender they went to said: No, it is too depressed. It sat vacant for 35 years.

Everywhere they went, they heard the same thing: The community will not be able to bring in enough business, and you will not be able to get enough customers from outside the community to visit that area.

Most people would have given up after receiving so many noes or given in to the pressure to put the restaurant in a more acceptable part of town, but like most people in South St. Pete, the Brayboys are a different cut because they are not easily deterred. If there is one thing my colleagues should know about the people of South St. Pete, it is this: Don't test their resolve, because you are in for a surprise.

Undeterred, Mr. and Mrs. Brayboys took money out of their 401(k) accounts and poured all of their life savings into buying that hulk of a building on 22nd Street. After gutting the inside and pouring in their blood, sweat, and tears into remodeling the property, Chief's Creole Cafe opened in November of 2014 and has been going strong ever since, creating jobs and changing the way people think about South St. Pete. This is a picture of how the restaurant looks today.

Despite the warnings of all of those doubtful lenders, they have been able to sustain the business by attracting both locals and customers from outside of the area of South St. Pete. Does that not look like something that is a well-run, growing, successful business?

So the old saying stands: If you build it, and if you really try, they will come.

Now, this is a great story of stubborn determination triumphing over fear and adversity and rejection after rejection, but this type of story is few and far between in too many parts of Florida and across the country.

So let me show you another picture. This is the Three Oaks Plaza. The Three Oaks Plaza used to be the location of a Dollar Tree store, but the store closed last year. This is how it used to look, and this is how it looks now. The closing of the Dollar Tree store came on the heels of the closing of the local Walmart nearby.

Unfortunately, this is all too common in South St. Pete and too many other parts of Florida. The problem isn't new, but we need a new way to think about it. We need economic policies that rely less on outside investors and outside companies to come in and remake the image of the area and rely more, instead, on empowering local residents to create their own businesses. They are more likely to keep profits in the community, creating a more sustainable loop of economic activity.

That is what I want to recommend that this Senate and future Senates do with legislation. Consider the example of legislation that I introduced earlier this year called the Economic Modernization Act. That bill does a lot of things, but one key thing it does is to create a new tax break for local businesses that move into buildings that have long sat idle and vacant. Under a piece of legislation such as that, if a business moves into a building that has been vacant for 2 or more years and renovates the property, the business would be able to get a tax deduction worth many more times than what it put into it. Any profits earned at the property, for the first 3 years in that building, would be a tax deduction. The deduction would be capped. It could be, in legislation, at 50 percent of the business's wages to make sure that the employees are also getting a benefit, and the more the business pays its employees, the more the business saves with that tax deduction and, therefore, saves in taxes.

Simply put, the bill, or legislation like it, will make it easier for local entrepreneurs to rebuild their community, helping to turn more places like this first photo into places like Chief's Creole Cafe.

Now, that is what we ought to be doing, not digging out old policies from the 1980s and calling it something new like our colleagues here in the Congress did last year with the tax bill. The tax bill added trillions to the national debt and made it easier for big corporations to game the tax system and put Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, our infrastructure, and all other sorts of priorities at risk because the entire national debt is run up $2 trillion over a 10-year period.

Where is the money to do all of these other priorities--Medicaid, Medicare, infrastructure, Social Security?

When big corporations see places like South St. Pete, they don't necessarily see the financial opportunity that Mr. and Mrs. Brayboy saw and turn it into a going concern. They don't necessarily want to empower places. Sometimes it just goes over their heads, and they miss the opportunity.

We need to incentivize local people to revitalize a community and, in the process, to be economically successful. We need to create more stories like the successful story of the Brayboys. We need to make it easier for locals to take old, abandoned buildings and turn them into new, thriving businesses that value their people and employ local residents. We need to encourage local communities, which understand their own needs, to be financially successful and have an opportunity to do that.

Despite what others say, instead of a tax bill that raises the national debt by $2 trillion, wouldn't you believe that if we could do this all over America, it would help so much of the economic underpinnings of our country?

Let's think of a way that it should be, and this is one way. We need to do more to lift up those at the bottom and help them help themselves. I hope our colleagues will agree, and I hope our colleagues will consider legislation like this in the future.