By Tim Poor

One of the more interesting takes on the Million Man March this week came from Jack Kemp, the perpetually wired guru of Republican economics. He says the mass gathering showed that all of the recent teeth-gnashing by politicians over the budget and the national debt has missed what's truly wrong with the country.

"The real train wreck is what the men on the march were saying: 'There aren't enough jobs in America,' " Kemp told a congressional committee; and the best way to create jobs, especially in the inner city, is by reducing taxes.

Leave it to a Republican to look at thousands of black men marching on the Mall and conclude that the message is to cut the capital gains tax.

But, wait a minute. Here comes Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, a liberal, African-American Democrat from Chicago's South Side. She's co-sponsoring a bill that would do just what Kemp wants. Her "Enhanced Enterprise Zone Act" aims to turn around distressed urban areas by:

Eliminating the capital gains tax for the sale of investments in those areas if the investments are held for at least five years.

Creating income-tax deductions for the purchase of stock in businesses.

Providing a tax credit for low-income renovations and incentives for home-ownership of public housing.

Allowing low-income parents to use vouchers to choose public or private schools.

Kemp appeared Thursday before the Senate's small-business committee, chaired by Kit Bond of Missouri. Bond wants to replace the government's minority set-aside program for small businesses with one that encourages federal agencies to contract with businesses in high-poverty areas.

His idea got good reviews at the hearing, as did that of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, to provide a tax credit for construction, expansion or renovation of businesses in targeted areas. Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., talked about his bill to reduce regulations that he said impede urban businesses.

There were some cautionary notes. One came from Blair Forlaw, policy director of the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council, a St. Louis area planning agency. She urged that while we target inner cities, we not forget about regional solutions to urban distress.

In the St. Louis area, for example, almost all of the job growth between 1970 and 1990 was in the Interstate 270 corridor and beyond, a trend that isn't likely to change soon no matter what happens in Washington. Forlaw said getting city residents into those suburban jobs is an important mission, one that isn't helped so much by financial incentives as it is by hands-on, trouble-shooting caseworkers to help workers make the transition.

Another sour note in the supply-side symphony was sounded by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

"There is a certain contradiction taking place," he said, as the Republican Congress makes proposals to rehabilitate inner cities while cutting federal spending on things like police and drug-treatment centers. All the tax credits in the world aren't going to persuade businesses to stay in urban combat zones whose residents have fallen through the safety net provided by programs that are being reduced or eliminated, he said.

"We are going to be playing with tiny little Band-Aids," he said.

That prompted an irritated Bond to reply that balancing the budget by reducing spending was the only long-term way to improve urban areas by lowering interest rates and creating jobs. "Those are the building blocks, " he said.

The balanced budget may hurt the immediate chances for the tax incentives as well. Bond said they were unlikely this year without some way to offset their cost.

Then, Kemp had a suggestion.

"Take away the tax credit for converting corn into ethanol. Of all the stupid ideas in America, that ranks up there at the top," said the former House member, who is not currently a candidate for public office.

"It's a good thing you're not running," Bond observed, a reference to ethanol's popularity in corn-growing states. It was a minor but telling example of the political realities that will make it tougher for the tax-relief advocates to get their proposals enacted.