Death by Budget Cut: Why Conservatives and Some Dems Have Blood on Their Hands
This article has been updated.
Politicians, the media and the power elite tell us that state and local government budget shortfalls are the result of lavish compensation packages paid to teachers, police officers and firefighters along with "entitlements" such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. The truth is that the economic crisis, sparked by decades of deregulation and greedy financial firms, caused high levels of unemployment that dramatically reduced state and local tax revenues. Add to that years of tax cuts for the wealthy and decades of corporate tax-dodging, and you've got yourself a budget crisis.
Conservatives clearly intend to exploit budget crises to starve government. And some Democratic politicians are also cutting services to balance their budgets. In their quest to render government incapable of providing for its citizens, conservatives, with the help of their fellow acquiescing Democrats, are exacting an irreversible and deadly toll that has gone largely ignored by the mainstream press. So it is up to us to bring attention to the disastrous consequences austerity has wrought.
A new trend in spending reduction forced upon cities and states is cuts to emergency response. Take Philadelphia, which last August began implementing " rolling brownouts ," a cost-cutting measure that forced the fire department to close fire stations on a daily rotating basis. At the time, firefighters argued that the brownouts would delay response times, possibly causing preventable injury and death.
This past February their warnings became reality when two children, ages 7 and 9, were pulled from a burning row home too little too late . As it turns out, the nearest fire station was temporarily shutdown due to the brownouts. Mike Kane of the Philadelphia Firefighters Union Local 22 said there was no way to tell whether the children would have lived had the fire station been open, but if not for the brownouts, "maybe them kids would have had a shot."
This wasn't the first time brownouts produced fatal consequences in Philadelphia. In August 2010, a fire broke out and spread to four homes, killing 12-year-old Frank Marasco . The firehouse serving Marasco's neighborhood was closed that night due to the brownouts.
Philadelphia isn't alone in resorting to brownouts to fill budget shortfalls. Los Angeles, San Diego, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Sacramento are also using brownouts as a means to save money. In July of last year brownouts in San Diego increased the time it took paramedics to reach a 2-year-old who ultimately choked to death on a gumball.
The Memorial Day weekend suicide of 52-year-old Raymond Zack has ignited controversy about cuts to emergency services. It took Zack an hour to drown in the San Francisco Bay as a dozen first responders and some 75 onlookers watched. According to the first responders , they lacked the proper water equipment and necessary certifications to conduct water rescues due to budget cuts from 2009.
Given the dire consequences of targeting emergency response services, it's frightening that New York City is preparing to close 20 firehouses and units across the city to squeeze out an estimated savings of $55 million. In protests earlier this month that received scant media attention, firefighters and residents told local news reporters that the closures will “ increase the response time for an adequate number of fire trucks to arrive on the scene” — an alarming thought in a city where “the difference between 2-5 minutes can mean the difference between life and death.”
Last December we witnessed the detrimental impact of cost-cutting, when New York City was pummeled by 20 inches of snow in what quickly became one of the most devastating blizzards the city has ever faced. As emergency responders grappled with snow-clogged streets, they were left with a backlog of 1,300 critical 911 calls, 1,000 of which went unanswered. In Brooklyn, a newborn infant died after the mother waited nine hours for emergency responders, while a stroke victim suffered advanced brain damage after waiting six hours for an ambulance. When a fire broke out five blocks from Elmhurst Hospital, emergency workers resorted to transporting patients to the emergency room on sleds. Paramedics were so busy, that for the first time in history, they were forced to limit CPR time to 20 minutes .