By Dave Lindorff
One impact of this deepening recession which is largely hidden because it is spread out and distributed across the land is a wave of budget crises swamping nearly every state government and every municipal government in the country.
State governments, according to the Center for Budget Priorities, are facing a $77-billion revenue shortfall for the 2009 fiscal year. Municipal governments are probably facing a total revenue shortfall of even more than that—perhaps closer to $100 billion. New York City, for example, is reportedly facing a budget shortfall of $1.5 billion over the next two years and Philadelphia, the nation’s fifth largest city, a shortfall of $1 billion over the next five years.
While these are huge numbers for the governments involved, and are leading to the closure of fire stations, community libraries, municipal swimming pools, etc., and the deferral of needed infrastructure repairs and maintenance and to the layoff of many city workers, as well as the curtailment of education programs in struggling school districts, they are not large sums of money when put up against the money that is being shoveled out by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve System to banks, investment banks and insurance companies.
At the same time, because states and municipalities are major employers, layoffs in these sectors will seriously undermine federal economic stimulus efforts.
What is stunning is that even as they face the politically devastating reality of having to tell citizens that important services, like road repairs, libraries, pools, snow removal, etc., are going to be slashed, and possibly that taxes, meanwhile, are going to have to be raised on residents who are themselves facing layoffs or pay cuts, and even as state and local political leaders are pleading with the federal government for assistance, few if any of those leaders are asking the key question.
That question is: Why is the US, which is facing this historically unprecedented economic debacle, continuing to spend $1 trillion a year on the military—an amount greater than what is being spent by all the rest of the nations of the world combined? Why is the US spending over $40 billion a year of completely unsupervised money on the “black box” of intelligence agencies? Why is the US spending $4-5 billion a week on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even talking about boosting spending on fighting in Afghanistan?
If the answer to that question is “national security,” why aren’t these state and local officials asking a second question, namely: Isn’t the first requirement of social security the health, safety and education of a nation’s citizens?
It seems to me self-evident that the nation’s governors, state legislators, mayors, county supervisors and city counselors need to organize collectively to start demanding that the military budget be taken off the sacrosanct list, and slashed dramatically to provide funds where they are needed—not for buying super expensive toys for generals and admirals to play with (weapons that have no conceivable real use), not for blowing up people in Iraq and Afghanistan, but rather for paying teachers and firefighters here at home.
There would be no state and local budget crisis if the Pentagon budget were slashed by 20 percent, with the funds shifted to state and local aid. If it were cut another 20 percent, there would be no problem implementing Barack Obama’s proposed plan for a national health insurance program. If it were cut another 10%, we’d have an education system for every child that would be the envy of the world, instead of the embarrassing system we have today, which is graduating kids in many districts who cannot even read or divide.
The peace movement, such as it is, instead of just periodically protesting on the National Mall in Washington, or marching past the Capitol or the White House, should be taking its protests to the state capitals and to local city halls, to press state and local officials to begin campaigning for an end to America’s imperialist adventures, and for a major reduction in bloated US military and intelligence budgets, in line with America’s real needs, as opposed to the manufactured “needs” of the military-industrial complex.
Meanwhile, the citizens of towns and cities across America need to tell their local and state elected officials that we’ve had it with the US being a global “policeman” (and a corrupt and vicious cop at that!). We want them to demand a sane and reasonable military budget, and appropriate help for struggling communities. Maybe Congress and the White House won’t listen to us, but they will listen to the voices of their own parties’ elected officials. And those local officials are much more likely to listen to us than the people in Washington.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net