Mayors to Obama: Bring War Dollars Home

 

mayors conference
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks during an opening press conference for the 79th annual meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in Baltimore on June 17, 2011. With him areBurnsville, Minnesota, Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, president of the Conference, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost the residents of Los Angeles over $1.8 billion this year. That’s the amount of tax dollars that Los Angeles has sent to the federal government and will be spent on these two wars, according to calculations by the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit research group. New Yorkers will shell out $5.7 billion to pay for U.S. troops, weapons, and supplies in these two countries. The cost to Atlanta taxpayers is over $203 million; Philadelphians will pay $612 million; in Milwaukee, the price tag is $221 million. The taxpayers of Boise, Idaho — a city with 205, 707 people — will spend $75 million in these two war zones this year.

This week, the nation’s mayors, desperate for dollars to keep their cities afloat, demanded: we want our money back! At its annual conference in Baltimore, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution calling for an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that the money could be put to better use at home. The resolution calls on the president and Congress to “bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy and reduce the federal debt.”

The resolution was initiated by the mayors of liberal cities — including Carolyn Peterson of Ithaca, David Cross of Santa Fe, R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis; and Dave Norris of Charlottesville — but it soon had widespread support from mayors from all over.

Los Angeles has an annual budget of almost $7 billion. That sounds like a lot, but it is not enough to provide even basic services for the city’s four million residents, businesses, and commuters. In recent years, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a progressive Democrat, has faced a sea of red ink from declining business revenues, property taxes, and federal and state cuts, forcing him to eliminate thousands of jobs, impose citywide furloughs, and slash library hours, pothole repairs, garbage collection, and other services. Earlier this month, facing a $336 million revenue shortfall, he closed down some fire engine teams, eliminated police overtime pay, sliced homeless programs, and reduced the parks and recreation budget.

“It’s time to bring our investments back home,” said Villaraigosa, the newly-elected president of the mayors conference. “We can’t be building roads and bridges in Baghdad and Kandahar, and not in Baltimore and Kansas City.”

The urban fiscal crisis is so desperate that even Mick Cornett, the Republican mayor of Oklahoma City, echoed these sentiments, telling CNN: “Those infrastructure dollars that have been spent rebuilding cities in eastern Afghanistan should be redirected to cities in the United States that have aging infrastructure.”

The Conference of Mayors released a report noting that about $126 billion is being spent annually on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while 75 metropolitan areas are expected to have double-digit unemployment by the end of the year.

The mayors’ resolution was not as strong as the one it passed 40 years ago, calling on President Richard Nixon to withdraw all U.S. troops from Vietnam within six months.

Most big-city mayors are Democrats, whose constituents include many low-income residents and whose cities have been particularly hurt by the dramatic cuts of federal housing, infrastructure, and other programs since the 1980s. In 1978, federal aid to cities peaked at 15% of cities’ revenues. Today, Washington contributes only about 4% of municipal budgets.

Some mayors wondered why the resolution only sought “speeding up the ending” of the wars and not immediate withdrawal. At their Baltimore meeting, the mayors were careful not to come down too hard on president Barack Obama, who has disappointed many liberals and progressives by maintaining high troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the resolution passed only after it was amended to give the Obama administration some wiggle room. The amended version reads that “the draw-down of troops should be done in a measured way that does not destabilize the region.”

Published by the LA Progressive on June 23, 2011
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About Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. This article draws on the last chapter (called "The 21st Century So Far") of his book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, published by Nation Books in July: http://100greatestamericans.org/