By Mike Helbick
This year alone, Milwaukee taxpayers will contribute $695 million to the U.S. Department of Defense. That would be enough to provide Milwaukee with 10,700 elementary school teachers, 10,500 police officers or medical care for 96,400 veterans. Instead, Milwaukee’s hard-earned tax dollars are paying for foreign military interventions and ineffective weapons systems at a time when Milwaukee desperately needs these funds here at home.
The implications of this budget choice are even worse when you consider that money spent on domestic priorities such as education, health care, housing and clean energy creates more jobs than military spending. For example, when Congress spends $1 billion on the military, it creates 11,200 jobs, but when it spends the same amount on education, it creates 26,700 jobs.
So it’s easy to see why last September, Milwaukee’s Common Council unanimously adopted a “Move the Money” resolution calling for the United States to redirect federal spending from foreign military interventions to investing in programs to address critical domestic and urban needs. What’s difficult to understand is how last week Congress could make life even harder for Milwaukee residents.
On March 1, Congress allowed indiscriminate across-the-board cuts to go into effect. These cuts are harming thousands of Wisconsin residents. We may not see the results yet, but we will soon. Because of the cuts, people in our state will go without food, lose jobs and income and get pushed toward homelessness. The cuts are dangerous. They are also unnecessary. And they come on top of $1.9 trillion in spending cuts and interest savings that have already happened. Wisconsin has lost 8.3% of its federal funds since 2010. We can’t afford to lose more.
The U.S. Senate considered, but failed to pass, legislation to replace these cuts in February. The Democratic leadership offered a proposal that would prevent cuts to education, public health, nutrition and other vital services by replacing them with more gradual cuts to the Pentagon, ending some farm subsidies, setting a minimum tax for millionaires and closing other tax loopholes. This is a balanced, sensible approach to reducing the deficit that will protect Wisconsin’s economy and residents. It is supported by most Americans.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) voted for this pragmatic approach, but Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) did not.
While the March 1 cuts affect a broad range of services touching the lives of most Americans, many reductions will hit low-income people particularly hard. For example, according to a new report by the Coalition on Human Needs, 8,100 low-income young children and mothers in Wisconsin will lose access to nutritious food. An estimated 1,377 low-income families will lose rental housing vouchers – for most, that probably means they will lose their homes. Nationally, nearly 5 million people have been out of work at least six months, but unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed will be cut 9.4%. In Wisconsin, 900 children will lose their place in Head Start and 500 will lose the help they need to pay for quality child care. These cuts will slash education, meals for low-income seniors, mental health treatment, environmental cleanup, food safety protections and much more.
The cuts also will harm our fragile economy, eliminating 700,000 jobs nationwide just when the economy is finally beginning to recover.
Milwaukee will be hit even harder than the rest of Wisconsin. Because nearly one out of three Milwaukee residents lives below the poverty line ($23,550 for a family of four), Milwaukee has more residents in need of help with basic needs such as nutrition and housing, and less local funds to help meet their needs.
Pushing more families and seniors into poverty and reducing our investment in education even further is simply not necessary. Instead of this self-inflicted wound, we should reduce bloated, wasteful Pentagon spending and move the money we save to job creation, education, health care and other priorities.
We should ask millionaires and top corporations to pay more of their share. A 5.6% surtax on income over $1 million could raise more than $450 billion over 10 years, which would replace most of the next decade’s domestic cuts. Options to tax offshore profits of corporations would raise hundreds of billions more.
When the Common Council passed the “Move the Money” resolution, it called for our nation to change its priorities and put domestic challenges first. Congress needs to give the balanced approach a second chance, in order to prevent real harm to Wisconsin’s people and economy.
Mike Helbick is program director with Peace Action-Wisconsin. Email Mike@peaceactionwi.org