The states’ fiscal crisis
It has been said that “all politics are local” and that certainly applies to last year’s $2.3 trillion package of tax breaks given to the richest of the rich. These tax breaks left state governments with a collective deficit of at least $50 billion and facing the worst fiscal crisis in two decades.

Small wonder, then, that the question has become the first order of business as state legislatures grapple with either cutting spending or raising taxes. So far they have opted for the former, with programs that serve low-income populations being the primary targets.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, the revenues of at least 43 states are below previous estimates, with nearly all of them planning cuts in public services.

Of the 19 states that have already made specific cuts to human services programs, 17 have cut health care programs, 10 have cut income support or employment support programs such as childcare and job training and 17 have cut other social service programs.

Eight other states have implemented across-the-board cuts in agencies serving low-income populations and at least eight more are considering cuts in human service programs.

All told, more than two-thirds of the states have taken steps to cut spending on programs that serve low-income residents. The situation is made worse by the new “stimulus” package that allows corporations to claim an immediate tax deduction on the purchase of new equipment, which will reduce by another $14 billion corporate income taxes paid to states, binging the total shortfall to at least $65 billion.

Two solutions suggest themselves: Increased federal aid to states and meaningful corporate income taxes at the state level.

The federal budget for the next fiscal year, now winding its way through Congress, can be turned into a fight for the first while state legislatures can be forced to act on the second. Neither will happen without pressure from below, so let’s get started.


Stop the war here and abroad
Attorney General John Ashcroft convened a news conference March 19 to announce that the United States has initiated drug-trafficking charges against members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The Justice Department is claiming it has proof of the “nexus” between drug trafficking and “terrorism.” Ashcroft stressed that those who traffic in drugs or even buy narcotics here in the U.S. are “aiding and abetting terrorism.”

This dovetails with the Bush administration’s drive to win Congressional approval for full-scale U.S. military intervention in Colombia, including the deployment of U.S. troops.

The State Department claims that its Plan Colombia, first approved by President Clinton in 2000, is designed to “promote the peace process, combat the narcotics industry and revive the plan to end Colombia’s civil war.”

Colombia’s civil war pits FARC and the National Liberation Army against the government’s armed forces and an illegal right-wing paramilitary group. The $7.5-billion Plan Colombia is designed primarily to assist the Colombian military in its attempt to defeat FARC, which is the principal threat to the political and economic elite in that country.

The U.S. solidarity group, the Colombia Mobilization, initiated emergency phonebanking to lawmakers March 19-21 to urge them to block this dangerous escalation of Plan Colombia. A National Mobilization on Colombia will take place April 19-22 in Washington, D.C. and on April 20 the Colombia Mobilization will join with the many other groups demonstrating at the Capitol to “Stop the War at Home and Abroad.”

The unity of action between solidarity and peace forces on April 20 will be a clear call for a real solution to terrorism. We urge all-out support for this effort.