This op-ed was originally published in the Charleston Gazette — Gary Zuckett: Better ways to spend tax money. Zuckett is the Executive Director of USAction affiliate West Virginia Citizen Action Group.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gradually, West Virginians are awakening to the headlines that automatic spending cuts, known as “the sequester,” are now a reality.
Experts tell us we could soon feel the cuts when it comes to air travel, food inspection, federal dollars paying a portion of our local teachers’ salaries and important programs like Head Start and nutrition assistance for women and young children.
Isn’t there is a better way to “fix” the federal budget?
Let’s review. For every tax dollar we give to the federal government, nearly 30 cents goes to the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s budget this year is $650 billion. It has increased 13 years in a row, and it’s 48 percent larger than it was a decade ago. The 2013 budget proposal diverts 57 percent of our federal discretionary spending to the Pentagon.
Now let us consider West Virginia’s share of the Pentagon budget. According to a new report issued by the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan organization that helps Americans understand how their dollars are spent, West Virginia taxpayers this year will spend $1.7 billion on the Pentagon — that’s their share of tax dollars to keep the Pentagon afloat.
How much is $1.7 billion to West Virginia taxpayers? For this amount of money, we could:
* Provide 69,211 low-income children with health care.
* Pay the salaries of 2,757 elementary school teachers for one year.
* Cover 21,888 Head Start slots for kids.
* Make sure 17,149 of our military veterans have VA medical care.
* Cover the costs of 3,403 law-enforcement officers.
* Extend Pell Grants to 27,136 college students.
This is not an alphabet soup of choices — the amount of West Virginia tax dollars sent to Washington, D.C., to pay for Pentagon spending would cover ALL of the above — with money left over.