The persistent budget crises in Illinois and Chicago are in large measure created by the Bush administration policies of tax cuts for the very rich, militarization and Iraq war spending that are bankrupting cities, counties and states across the nation. The recently adopted Bush budget projects red ink as far as the eye can see.
All people-serving programs are staggering under the weight of the cuts driven by Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress, including deep cuts in low-income energy assistance, veterans’ benefits and environmental protection.
The “No Child Left Behind” law has been severely under funded (in Illinois by $400 million), 80 percent of Illinois school districts are in the red and the Chicago Public Schools will lay off 1,000 teachers, expand class sizes, cut bus service and hike lunch fees. These measures will not fully cover a $175 million deficit. This stark picture is being repeated elsewhere.
The recently adopted state budget robs Peter to pay Paul to cover a $1.2 billion deficit and leaves vital public services underfunded. The impact on working families is new fees, skyrocketing property taxes and tuition costs and diminished public worker pension funds. In every case working people are paying for the budget crisis.
It’s time for new priorities. Let’s talk about the twin 800-pound gorillas in the room. First, there are the tax cuts to the rich and the bottomless corporate subsidies. Second, 60 percent of the 2006 federal discretionary budget is devoted to the military and other security spending.
Over $511 billion is spent on the military, with no end to yearly increases in sight. The current military budget is the largest in real terms in the history of the country and larger than all military budgets around the world combined.
Yet, for example, only $62 billion is spent on education. How much is gobbled up by the shameful profiteering of the military monopoly corporations?
Of the $168 billion (to exceed $210 billion this year) spent on the Iraq war, over $11.1 billion came from Illinois — all for a war of aggression based on lies. The average household in Illinois paid $7,431 in federal income taxes in 2003. Nearly $3,000 was spent on the military and interest on debt payments related to military spending. A pathetic $282 was spent on education!
It’s time for a national discussion on the real purpose of military spending: not fighting terrorism or freedom of oppressed peoples, but enriching the military monopoly corporations and protecting and expanding the freedom of U.S.-based transnational corporations to exploit and plunder worldwide.
It’s time for a change in priorities. The same money spent on the Iraq war from Illinois alone could have funded for one year: 154,000 teachers; 1.1 million children in Head Start; health insurance for 5 million children; or 432,000 four-year scholarships at public universities.
Working families are being squeezed between the dismantling of public services and higher fees and taxes. The answer from the politicians is always the same — live within your means. While we fight to make the rich pay more, we also need to fight for new federal spending priorities.
John Bachtell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Illinois district organizer of the Communist Party USA.