As a State Senator and University Professor, we see evidence of a growing list of social problems facing Minnesota communities at a time when budget constraints impede solutions while federal priorities privilege wasteful Pentagon spending and costly wars. Many Minnesota communities have lain off teachers, firefighters, police, and other civil servants. Investments have lagged in roads, bridges, and basic infrastructure. Libraries have cut hours and staff. Class sizes have risen in public schools. Community programs that serve at-risk youth and the needs of the poor have suffered as pain from austerity budgets trickles down from the federal government to states, counties, cities, and neighborhoods.
We hear repeatedly that more pain is coming as the nation approaches a “fiscal cliff” that will require more austerity and deeper cuts. Largely absent from this discussion is that many of the negative social consequences of austerity could be avoided if our nation stopped squandering its treasure on wasteful Pentagon spending and costly, unnecessary wars. It was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who warned the nation of dire consequences linked to the rising power of a “military industrial complex” (MIC). He understood that because of the “misplaced power” of the MIC our democracy was threatened and that military spending levels, and even the wars our nation would fight, were now disconnected from actual defense needs. War and wasteful Pentagon spending were becoming sources of money, power and influence, not a means to security.
On Wednesday October 10th, the St. Paul City Council unanimously approved RES 12-1859, a resolution calling on “the Minnesota Congressional Delegation to support shifting federal funding priorities from military operations to meeting the essential needs of our local communities.”
The body of the resolution noted that Minnesota taxpayers spent nearly $5 billion to fund the Iraq and Afghan wars in 2011 alone, bringing total Minnesota taxpayer spending for these wars to more than $38.5 billion. In addition to these costly wars, wasteful Pentagon spending grew dramatically in recent years. Minnesota taxpayers spent more than $16 billion in 2012 for our share of the base Pentagon budget, a budget that increased from $290.5 billion to $526 billion between 2000 and 2011. The St. Paul City Council noted the local impact of these priorities: “the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program will likely see significant reductions in 2012…due to federal spending reductions.” These cuts would result in less spending on “capital projects, public service programs, property maintenance and program administration…”
The resolution defends support for veterans while lamenting that Congress currently devotes 59 cents of every dollar of discretionary spending for military purposes (the budget for veterans is separate). We concur fully with the City Council’s request to shift priorities and with its assessment that “military spending impacts the nation’s economic recovery and national debt issues” and that the nation “desperately needs to better balance its approach to national security to include the economic, social, and environmental needs of our communities, state, and nation.”
Senator Sandy Pappas (65-DFL) is Vice President of the Women Legislators’ Lobby, a Program of Women’s Action for New Directors (WAND). Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is Associate Professor of Justice and Peace Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and a co-founder of the Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project (MN ASAP).