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Small-City Mayor Takes on the Pentagon -- War Spending Should Be Spent on Americans, Not on Killing Afghans

We don't just have a revenue problem in this country -- we have a values and priorities problem.

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Ryan's message doesn't resonate with all of his constituents -- some have walked out on his public appearances -- but he's used to controversy and convinced that Americans had better get their heads straight soon. “People are hurting so bad,” he insists, “that, like it or not, we're all going to have to look at things seriously if we want our situation to change.”

Heads should swivel, he thinks, when faced with the $138.6 million Binghamton’s taxpayers are out of pocket since 2001 for the Iraq and Afghan wars. And that’s not even counting the city's share of the supplemental funds Congress will undoubtedly agree to this spring to cover the Afghan “surge” or the city's portion of the basic Pentagon budget for the same period.

For a small city with an annual budget of $81.1 million, $138.6 million would be a hefty sum, even in non-recessionary times. For the same amount of money, Ryan could fund the Binghamton city library for the next 60 years, or pay for a four-year education for 95% of the incoming freshman class at the State University of New York at Binghamton, or offer four years of quality health coverage for everyone in Binghamton 19 or younger, or secure renewable electricity for every home in the city for the next 11 years.  If he was feeling really flush, he could fully fund one-third of New York State's Head Start slots for one year.

For the same sum, Ryan could also authorize a $2,900 tax refund for every woman, man, and child in Binghamton or pay the salaries of all of Binghamton's hard-hit public school teachers and staff for about two years.

For $138.6 million, Mayor Ryan could hire 2,765 public safety officers for a year, or simply refund the 12 police positions cut in the latest budget contraction and guarantee those salaries for the next 230 years. Ridiculous? These days, no one is laughing in Binghamton or other cities like it.

A Community Starved by War

As tax day looms on April 15th, Ryan increasingly thinks about where Binghamton’s tax dollars will be heading and dreams about a government system that would have the potential to raise and spend tax revenue in the service of social benefits like affordable healthcare.

He’s disturbed by how Binghamton’s tax dollars will be distributed and what they will -- and won't -- buy for his city. Consider, for instance, where the 2009 taxes paid by a median income Binghamton household actually went.  That year, such a household's income hovered around $30,000 annually, while its members paid approximately $738 in federal income taxes.

According to the tax-day analysis of the National Priorities Project (NPP), an overwhelming 218 of those dollars went to pay for military expenditures and interest on military-related debt (generated, in part, by current war spending). The next highest amount -- $137 -- went to healthcare, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

In 2009, $67, nearly 10 cents on every tax dollar, went to an aggregated category of spending NPP has titled “government,” tripling it in a single year, largely thanks to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), otherwise known as the bank bailout, whose cost every community in America has had to shoulder. Fifty-eight dollars (8.5 cents on every income-tax dollar) went to increased unemployment insurance payments and job-training initiatives, also a rise from the previous year.

Not surprisingly, the $15 that went to elementary, secondary, higher, and vocational education in 2009 represented a drop from 2008, a loss of a penny on every tax dollar. There’s no way, of course, that Mayor Ryan's dream of free, quality education from kindergarten to college is likely to happen on but 2% of every individual federal income tax dollar. Nor will we usher in the green techno-revolution that he and President Obama both support, by spending 2.5 cents on every dollar for the combined categories of the environment, energy, and science, and another 1.3 cents of every dollar on transportation.

 
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