As tax day approaches, many will be calling on President Donald Trump to release his tax returns. Those of us who pay taxes might also want to ask how we want our tax dollars allocated. Do we want to slash programs serving our communities in order to give the biggest tax breaks to the wealthiest, and pump up the military, which already receives more than 50 percent of the discretionary federal budget?
This is Trump’s budget recipe to “make America great again.” Since members of Congress will be debating the budget in the months to come, they need to hear from those of us who believe this budget promotes greater inequality and makes us less secure by rewarding the top 1 percent and promoting militarism while eliminating programs our communities need.
In this shock and awe budget, 45,000 Mainers could lose their heating and weatherization assistance. Communities contaminated by industries would no longer have funding to clean up toxic sites. College would become even less affordable with cuts to work-study and financial assistance. Block grants that provide funding for infrastructure, economic development and programs to help the homeless also would shrink. Federal support for legal services for low-income people would be eliminated. The small fraction of the budget going to promote the arts and humanities would be slashed.
Who would benefit most from these skewed priorities? The U.S. military, which is already larger than that of the next seven countries combined, will get a 10 percent — $54 billion — increase despite lack of accountability, waste and making weapons that do nothing to protect us from terrorist threats by extremist small groups or deranged lone individuals. In fact, “defense” contractors often sell arms that promote conflicts around the globe and thus create greater insecurity. Or their profits may come from building nuclear weapons that should never be used. After 16 years of endless war, do we feel more secure?
“Defense” contractors will continue to reap huge profits as their CEOs average $21.5 million in annual compensation. Phebe Novakovic, CEO of General Dynamics, which owns Bath Iron Works, was paid $20.4 million in 2015. James McNerny received $29 million before leaving as the head of Boeing. Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy received $20.4 million in 2015. Lockheed Martin’s CEO, Marilyn Hewson, got more than $30 million in 2015.
Former President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the growing military-industrial complex in his farewell speech in 1961. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” the president — and former general — said.
Today, our elected representatives are reluctant to oppose such “unwarranted influence.” They may fear being accused of being unpatriotic or hostile to enlisted soldiers if they oppose increased military spending. Many fear the loss of jobs these military contractors provide. But perhaps it is time to fund alternatives to promote real security in our communities rather than ones that feed endless war and line the pockets of the wealthiest. Let’s spend our tax dollars on programs that create more jobs and provide for the needs of our communities.
Many supported Trump because he promised jobs, jobs, jobs. But a study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts found more good-paying jobs are created by spending on health care, education and renewable energy. The National Priorities Project estimates the $54 billion increase in military spending could provide Medicaid for 15 million adults, grant 1.6 million students a free four-year college education, create 1 million infrastructure jobs, or fund the Meals on Wheels program for 7,180 years.
Six years after Eisenhower’s farewell address, Martin Luther King Jr. called for “a true revolution of values” when he said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Let’s not fight each other just to preserve a particular program. Together we can challenge this budget proposal that benefits only the few and hurts the many. Let’s call for alternatives that contribute to real security for us all.
Ilze Petersons is a volunteer with the education committee of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine. She lives in Orono. A coalition, including the Peace & Justice Center, will hold a Trump tax protest at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building on Harlow Street in Bangor from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.