By Bill Christofferson, February 29, 2020
From Urban Milwaukee
A Milwaukee billboard with a simple 10-word message has focused public attention this month on military spending and the costs of war.
Peace activists, public officials, protesters, nuns, and curious members of the public have visited the site, at James Lovell and Wells Streets, to read and react to the billboard. Its message is global:
“3% of US military spending could end starvation on earth.”
But a local perspective, in some ways, is even more dramatic. The numbers are staggering.
In 2018, Milwaukee County taxpayers paid $1.54 billion as their share of the military budget. For the cost of the endless wars the US is engaged in around the world, county taxpayers sent $141.19 million to the Pentagon.Since 2001, the total cost of wars to local taxpayers has been $10.68 billion. It is easier, perhaps, to visualize this way: $10,680,000,000.
Those figures are from the National Priorities Project, which says: “Our federal budget represents a series of choices. Those choices should reflect our priorities as a nation. But do they?”
Budgets are about choices, just like the kind taxpayers have to make when deciding on the family budget. But families don’t have the option of running up trillion dollar debts. The current national debt is $23-trillionand counting, and will grow under the new federal budget just unveiled by President Trump, which cuts domestic spending and increases the Pentagon budget, while surveys show American voters want the opposite.
What could Milwaukee taxpayers’ one-year Pentagon payment of $1.54-billion pay for instead? Here are some possibilities:
- 20,115 Elementary school teachers or
- 20,829 Clean energy jobs created or
- 27,773 Infrastructure jobs or
- 15,429 Jobs created in high poverty communities or
- 192,855 Head Start slots for children or
- 145,216 Veterans receiving VA medical care or
- 1.05 million Children receiving low-income healthcare or
- 45,820 Scholarships for university students for 4 Years.
No one has suggested shutting down the Pentagon and spending all of its budget on something else, of course. But even 10 percent of the military budget could fund a variety of much-needed programs that are underfunded. And there is no need to pick one item from the list above. We could take some from Column A, some from Column B and so on to create an alternative budget.
Or what if we didn’t spend it all? Imagine the impact those billions of dollars could have on the local economy if they were spent by the taxpayers instead of the government. There are plenty of options, but none are viable as long as the Pentagon has a blank check.
Milwaukeeans already are on record as favoring a shift in federal dollars from war to peaceful pursuits.
City of Milwaukee voters, way back in 1982, voted in favor of a Jobs With Peace referendum calling for shifting military spending to other needs.Last year, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisorsadopted a resolution calling for Congress to “reallocate federal military outlays toward human and environmental needs: aid toward the goal of providing free, superior education from pre-school through college, end world hunger, convert the United States to clean energy, provide clean drinking water everywhere needed, build high speed trains between all major U.S. cities, finance a full-employment jobs program, and double non-military foreign aid.”
War “literally takes food out of the mouths of babies,” Milwaukee’s Congresswoman, Rep. Gwen Moore, told peace activists at an event in front of the billboard last week. “We have a military budget that is a feeding frenzy. It broke my heart when the President proposed a budget with $180-billion over the budget cycle in the next 10 years to be taken out of SNAP. Children who are getting food from the breakfast program and lunch program all around the county would lose those benefits.”
The billboard is going on hiatus at the end of February after a month-long display but will be back for the month of July, when the Democratic National Convention will take place at the nearby Fiserv Forum. It is sponsored by World Beyond War, Milwaukee Veterans For Peace, Progressive Democrats of America’sMilwaukee branch, and other groups.
Bill Christofferson is a former journalist and retired political consultant who has worked in state and local government. He is a member of Milwaukee Veterans For Peace.