From every corner of America urban, suburban and rural the news of shrinking budgets and slashed community services sounds forth like a tragic Greek chorus.
According to Pew Trust's Philadelphia Research Initiative, balancing a city's budget has become a year-long necessity due to the uncertainty of revenues and cutbacks in state aid. In 2009, Baltimore, Boston and Phoenix had to revise already completed budgets. Bus services are being canceled in ClaytonCountyGeorgia leaving suburban working poor, many of whom are car-less, stranded from their jobs in sprawled metropolitan Atlanta. A national survey of 151 public transit agencies found that 3 of 5 agencies cut services or raised fares because of flat or decreased local and state funding. On March 13, 2010, my local newspaper laid out in bold front page headlines a litany of economic woes for Franklin County, Massachusetts: "United Way falling short on fundraising goals"; "Tight times in FranklinCounty"; "State aid to towns to be cut by up to 4%." Human service programs, education, police officers, firefighters, and child support are threatened with continuing budget cuts and losses in tax income, according to the news articles.
With striking consistency, local politicians, media, and economic analysts lay the blame for budget woes on the unholy trinity of recession, falling tax revenues, and diminished federal aid to states, cities and towns. Their consistent remedial response: cut jobs and services; raise sales and property taxes, institute work furloughs, and negotiate with unions to reduce pension and health benefits.
This week, however, the mayor of Binghamton, New York broke with this mantra and exposed the elephant in the room of local budget crises the obese, yet untouchable, military budget which over-consumes our income taxes and causes cities and towns to starve as their federal aid declines. Urged by residents he will install a large, digital cost-of-war counter, funded by private citizens, on the front of City Hall. Binghamton taxpayers have paid $138.6 million since 2001 to support failed wars, an amount which could fund renewable electricity for every home over the next 11 years and provide 4 year scholarships for most of the 2010 entering class of SUNY Binghamton.