By Henry Lowendorf, U.S. Peace Council
What could the city of New Haven do with vast amounts of money freed up by cutting the US military budget? This was the subject of a public hearing by the Board of Alders on January 26, 2017.
Heads of several city departments testified that they could actually fulfill their commitments to the needs of New Haven’s residents if only they had the resources.
The Human Services Committee of the Board chaired by Ward 27 Alder Richard Furlow held the hearing based on a resolution proposed by the City of New Haven Peace Commission and the Greater New Haven Peace Council.
Seth Godfrey, Chair of the Peace Commission, pointed out that 55% of our federal tax dollars go to the military but should be redirected to meet human needs in poor cities like New Haven.
Mayor Toni Harp’s statement was read supporting repurposing funds to address persistent hunger, ill health and aging infrastructure. More funding would enable such cultural attractions as ballet and circus, a full time symphony, opera, an artisan institute to teach historic preservation skills.
Other city officials came to the table to testify, many of whom thanked the Board for the opportunity to do “what if” thinking.
Dierdre Gruber and Arecelis Maldonado from Public Health worried that 42 nurses serve 56 schools with 8,000 kids who have medical needs including vaccinations, which could be provided with sufficient funding.
The city’s Development Department is understaffed, reported Director Matt Nemerson. With a “peace dividend” jobs, neighborhood vitality and housing could be addressed, including ending homelessness. Indeed, housing services for the homeless needs about $100 million. Tweed-New Have airport could extend its runway to accommodate jet airplanes. Incubator programs to benefit small businesses and entrepreneurs would be possible. The city could compete with private developers who buy land and bank it hoping to make a big profit rather than develop it for neighborhoods or industrial areas. Industrial space could be prepared for companies seeking it in our city.
“This hearing provides a real opportunity to look at the bigger picture,” began city engineer Giovanni Zinn. Roads, sidewalks, bridges and drainage all need work. There is a $110 million gap. We must deal with our coastline that will be impacted by climate change. The harbor channel needs dredging estimated at $50 million. Rental housing needs renewable energy solutions. To make matters worse, we expect fewer federal dollars. Zinn finished by stating, “Thanks for the opportunity to do ‘what if’ thinking.”
Jeff Pescosolido, director of Public Works, added to the story. More money means better roads and safer travel. $3 million to start and $2 million per year more are needed for road maintenance. Updated equipment would improve service. Year round projects, winter sand, rebuilt sidewalks, beautification all require more funding and staff.
A statement from Michael Carter, New Haven’s Chief Administrative Officer, was read into the record. To restore Parks and Public Works to 2008 levels – before the global economic meltdown – would mean hiring 25 people cut from the former and 15 from the latter. $8 million is needed to build a garage for the city’s green fleet of vehicles. Carter echoed thanks for “creating this thought exercise.”
The great gap in human services was addressed by Martha Okafor, director of Community Services. We cannot meet basic needs. We must target “street homelessness, which is not the same as chronic homelessness.” We must target kids without stable housing. How do we prevent homelessness for someone who lost his job and has no funds. How do we pay 1-2 months rent until he gets a job, or provide transportation so he can get to his job. There is nothing for families, nothing for a couple without kids. Without funding, how can we create community food distribution stations and offer more services for seniors and youth?
Community residents also testified.
Patricia Kane, representing the New Haven Green Party, said the country has been in a permanent war economy since World War II, is in peril and New Haven is struggling to meet human needs. She advocated for a green economy with more alternative energy and a local food economy.
The Greater New Haven Peace Council, one of the sponsors of the resolution that led to this hearing, was represented by Henry Lowendorf.
He praised the noble efforts of the city to be a sanctuary for immigrants. He linked the dangers of two existential threats to humanity – global warming and nuclear war – as within our grasp to control. He quoted both Martin Luther King, who saw war as the enemy of the poor, and President Dwight Eisenhower who saw preparations for war as the enemy of our country’s infrastructure. The equivalent of nearly a fifth of the city’s budget is taken from New Haven taxpayers every year for war, which represents an enormous gap in jobs, infrastructure, Headstart and college scholarships. And he called on city officials to demand from our national representatives a plan to move the money from war to human needs.
Other residents of the city also testified at this first ever hearing on what the city could do to uplift our residents with the annual treasure spent on war.
The resolution calling for our members of Congress to cut the military budget and transfer the funds saved to our cities passed the Committee and in February unanimously passed the Board of Alders. It was sent to Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Chris Murphy. To date no reply was received. Mayor Harp also submitted an updated version of the resolution to the US Conference of Mayors where it also passed unanimously.
How we achieved a public hearing on Moving the Money resolution in New Haven CT.
New Haven’s experience reflects a long history of peace activity in the city, the existence of a formal city Peace Commission and the long-term construction of good relations with members of the Board of Alders and the Mayor.
The Greater New Haven Peace Council initiated a resolution in the spring of 2016 that was submitted by the City Peace Commission to the Board of Alders. We had followed a similar procedure in 2012 when we successfully introduced a resolution calling for placing on the ballot a referendum to cut the military budget and use the money saved for human needs. The referendum won 6 to 1 with three quarters of voters taking part.
We worked with the chair of the Human Services Committee of the Board, with whom we meet regularly, to ensure that the resolution came before his committee. We also discussed the resolution with the Mayor in advance to assure that she approved for department heads to testify. We were concerned that they would be reluctant to add even more work to their busy agendas. Before her election as mayor, Toni Harp was the state senator who acted on our behalf to introduce legislation calling for creation of a CT commission that examined converting from military to civilian manufacturing. We also discussed with one of the legislative services aides, who provide support to members of the Board of Alders, which of all the department heads interact most with the residents of the city and would make the most fruitful contribution to the hearing. The Human Services Committee invited those specific city officials.
Thus we did our homework.
Testimony of Henry Lowendorf:
I am Henry Lowendorf, co-chair of the Greater New Haven Peace Council. I am also co-Chair of the Ward 27 Democratic Committee and a member of the Democratic Town Committee.
Alder Furlow and members of the Human Services Committee, thank you for holding this hearing.
We are living in extraordinary times.
Last Friday the most reactionary government in our history took control in Washington. Last Saturday massive rallies broke out across the United States. They were populated by millions who had never before taken part in public demonstrations to oppose the destructive policies of that government.
This hearing takes place in the midst of the greatest threats we and our city have faced in our lifetimes.
New Haven’s noble and brave support for immigrants in our city will require all our neighbors standing up for human rights. We are aware that all of our rights are being attacked.
Yes, New Haven must be a sanctuary city for immigrant rights, but also for the right to a good job, for the right to an excellent education and the right to quality health care and the right to safe streets.
Global overheating threatens our security today and in the longer term. Another threat to us and civilization is a sudden nuclear confrontation emanating either from Europe or Syria.
The immediate threat, however, is that the new US administration and Congress show every intention of cutting funding to cities, human services and human needs, cutting to the bone.
I’m confident that our representatives in Congress will resist to the extent that they can the efforts by the Republican majority to gut programs that serve the needs of New Haven residents. But what is needed for our city to survive and prosper is something very different from what we have experienced to date.
In 1953, President Eisenhower warned us, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
We have heard from leaders in city government the difficulties our city has to meet its obligations to its residents. In large part those difficulties arise from the guns made, the warships launched and the rockets fired. They sap the strength of this nation. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke so eloquently in 1967, “I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”
In 2017, war continues to be the enemy of the poor, indeed of the great majority of our fellow citizens.
Connecticut, one of the richest states in the richest nation in the world, contains some of the poorest cities, including New Haven. We must face the reality that our city and other cities struggle to find necessary resources because this country spends so much on wars, on war preparations, on building weaponry.
The Federal budget that the Congress votes on every year allots 53% of our tax dollars to the Pentagon and warmaking. 53%. Children, schools, Education, infrastructure, environment, health, research, parks, transportation – everything else shares what’s left.
Every year New Haven Taxpayers send $119 million to the Pentagon. That’s about 18% of the city budget.
What could we do with that money? Create
700 infrastructure jobs, and
550 clean energy jobs, and
350 elementary school teaching jobs.
Or we could have
600 4-year scholarships for university
900 HeadStart slots for children
850 jobs in high poverty areas.
The ongoing and endless wars don’t make us secure. What will make us secure is the jobs that help the residents of our city.
If we are going to resist the attacks now coming from Washington, all of us have to stick together. And above all we have to demand that our Congressional representatives stop funding the wars, stop funding the killing machines, but rather fund the jobs that New Haven and all Connecticut cities need.