Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nation's Wars Are Heavy Burden on State Budgets

Nation's Wars Are Heavy Burden on State Budgets

by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and Bill Hilty

Citizens in Minnesota are being encouraged to see scarcity as the new normal. If you are an elected official at any level of government, your job has been reduced to managing austerity.U.S. soldiers in Kunar province, Afghanistan. (AP)

It doesn't have to be this way -- if we address the elephant lurking in the budget deficit hall. That would be the high costs of militarization and war.

Technically, the military budget is a federal issue, distinct from state, county and city budgets. However, we can no longer maintain the fiction that distorted federal spending that prioritizes war and militarism is disconnected from state and local budget crises and is eroding living standards.

According to the nonpartisan National Priorities Project, Congress devotes 58 cents of every dollar of federal discretionary spending to war-related purposes. To better understand the impact on Minnesota of privileging military spending priorities, consider this: We have just experienced a painful government shutdown over how to deal with a two-year $5 billion shortfall. Yet Minnesota taxpayers over the same two-year period will spend $8.4 billion just for our share of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

This will bring Minnesotans' total contribution to those wars to about $36 billion. Additionally over the next two years, Minnesotans will pay $26 billion for our share of the nation's base military budget, a budget that has doubled since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Every Minnesota citizen and every layer of government is impacted negatively by current war-related priorities. Faced with pressing local needs, taxpayers in Fergus Falls will pay $17 million for their share of counterproductive Iraq/Afghan wars over the next two years; Minneapolis taxpayers will contribute $255 million.

We believe it is time for Minnesotans to communicate clearly to our members of Congress and to President Obama that federal funding priorities must shift from unnecessary wars to meeting essential needs. A new citizen-driven effort, the Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project (MNasap), is a vehicle for doing so.

We have crafted a simple resolution that can be adapted and enacted by individuals, community groups, library boards, city councils and other elected bodies throughout the state. It reads in part: "Whereas our nation desperately needs to better balance its approach to security to go beyond military defense and include the economic, social, and environmental needs of our communities, state, and nation ... Therefore [we] call on Senators Klobuchar and Franken, and Representatives Walz, Kline, Paulsen, McCollum, Ellison, Bachmann, Peterson and Cravaack as well as President Barack Obama, to shift federal funding priorities from war and the interests of the few, to meeting the essential needs of us all."

The state government shutdown has ended, but the pain will be ongoing for many Minnesotans. As a recent Star Tribune editorial ("New budget rests on shaky structure," July 20) states, borrowing against future state revenues and delaying school payments will have serious consequences, and the budget "inflicts too much pain. The hurt will be felt most keenly on college campuses and among those who serve low-income disabled and elderly people."

Imagine what we can accomplish if we stop squandering wealth and talents on militarization and counterproductive wars. Schools could reduce class sizes and have adequate supplies. Bridges could be repaired. Food shelves could be adequately stocked but rarely needed. We could take steps to make homelessness rare and temporary. Cities and states could adequately provide essential services, including meeting their authentic security needs. Critical investments could be made in infrastructure and green technologies. Public libraries could expand hours and programming. Urban and national rail systems could be built. The country could address climate change and end child poverty. All Americans could have access to quality, affordable health care.

This sounds like a fantasy only because current choices keep us on the dead-end road of militarization. It is a realistic possibility once we demilitarize priorities, realistically assess security needs and refocus governing on serving the common good.

© 2011 Star Tribune

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is associate professor of justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, is a member of the Minnesota House. For information on the resolution campaign, contact

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Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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