I live in Cleveland, Ohio. A few months ago we learned that, according to the most recent Census Bureau statistics, we now live in the poorest city in the nation. We also learned that of the 12 Federal Reserve Bank regions in the nation, we live in the only one which has yet to see any improvement in the economy.
Last fall the Cleveland Public Schools lost a $68 million school levy, only months after a $100 million deficit forced the superintendent to lay off 700 classroom teachers and several hundred other security and administrative personnel. In at least one Cleveland school that meant 60 students to one classroom. Similarly, the mayor was forced to lay off several hundred civil servants, including police officers and firefighters. We learned a week or so ago that because of projected federal government budget cuts, we probably will lose an additional 700 jobs at the NASA Glenn Center located by the airport.
Enter the newest budget realities. In President Bush’s new budget, he is proposing budget cuts and consolidation of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), a 30-year-old program which sends federal funds to cities fighting poverty. Cleveland stands to lose up to $27.4 million of CDBG money which currently funds “brownfield” reclamation, the city’s 49 community development corporations and social service agencies that feed the hungry and house the homeless.
When Gov. Taft released his state budget a few days later, it included 20 percent cuts in state funds to Ohio cities. That would mean an additional $11 million budget cut for Cleveland. Moreover, his budget proposes budget cuts for libraries and the state Medicaid program for the state’s poorest citizens. The state Environmental Protection Agency will be removed from the general fund altogether, at the same time that Cleveland experienced a dangerous air quality inversion in the middle of the winter. The only positive note in all of this seems to be more state funds allocated for Cleveland public schools.
I have the feeling that Cleveland is just one example of cities in budget crisis across the nation. Indeed, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has condemned the proposed budget cuts for the nation’s cities, as all of Ohio’s big city mayors have decried the proposed state budget.
I know that we are a nation at war, a war costing at least $200 billion. But how can we spend billions rebuilding the cities of Iraq and Afghanistan while our own cities are swiftly falling apart? I know that many Americans are tired of taxes that they perceive to be too high, but how can we pass tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while millions of Americans have no jobs and millions more have no health care insurance?
I can’t really imagine what Cleveland will do if it must absorb another $40 million in budget cuts. I can’t imagine what Detroit will do or what Gary or Trenton or Buffalo or Pittsburgh will do.
Maybe we are just all expected to leave the cities and go someplace else. Will the last person leaving please turn out the lights?
Bernice Powell Jackson is executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, www.ucc.org/justice/.