Gary Zuckett: Better ways to spend tax money

clee March 18, 2013 0

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.

A reasonable person might ask, doesn’t cutting Pentagon spending mean a weaker military? It doesn’t.

Military experts tell us our armed forces will be stronger if we force ourselves to think strategically. Some military brass may view the sequester as a crisis — but it’s also an opportunity for Congress to seriously assess the Pentagon’s strategic choices and budget needs based on a careful exploration of our priorities.

And what are our priorities? Priority one might be to make greater investments in special operations forces for counter terrorism, and discontinue occupying entire countries.

Priority two might be putting less emphasis on huge fleets of expensive aircraft like the F-35 (the most expensive weapons system in our history) or listening to the Pentagon when they recommend not to build any more M-1 Tanks because we have 3,000 in reserve in the California desert.

Priority three might be greater investment in cyber capabilities to protect cyberspace and boost informational security over future threats like China.

Recent polls show that a majority of both Democrats and Republicans think Pentagon spending should be responsibly reined in, and both Democrats and Republicans prefer cuts in this area to cuts in programs like Medicare and Social Security.

So what are we waiting for? And what must be overcome?

Today, 53 years after outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warned of a “permanent armaments industry of vast proportions,” we must overcome the pervasive power of military contractor CEOs and their lobbyists.

We must recognize that present priorities command us to invest in domestic concerns such as jobs, education and health care. Nation-building at home must trump nation-building abroad.

We must recognize that strength and respect abroad is built, and based, on economic strength at home. And we cannot thrive if obsolete and unnecessary weapons systems are consuming our precious resources and weakening our economy through cuts that cost jobs here in the homeland.

It is not the size of government that is the problem but who government is working for — CEOs and lobbyists or working families and the middle class? We need a government that works for us.

Zuckett is executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action.  

Leave A Response »