N.Y. mayor: End the war, send us money

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The mayor of Binghamton, New York, is sick and tired of cutting municipal services and raising taxes, and he’s not going to take it anymore.

Mayor Matt Ryan says his community is forced to “squabble over crumbs” while millions of dollars of his taxpayers’ money pours into the Pentagon to fuel America’s war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Sept. 30 of this year, Binghamton’s taxpayers will have contributed $138.6 million to the war efforts, says the mayor.

He plans to erect a digital “cost-of-war” clock on the facade of City Hall to protest the money the U.S. is sinking into its long war effort.

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While local mayors seem unlikely to adopt Ryan’s tactics, they are probably sympathizing with his plight. Both Lewiston and Auburn councils met Tuesday night to talk about major budget cuts.

Lewiston’s original municipal budget projected a $4 million deficit, while Auburn was showing $3.5 million in red ink.

Binghamton’s Ryan faces a $7 million shortfall in his community of 47,000.  He would have to increase the city sales tax from 7 percent to 24 percent to make up the difference, or cut one out of four city employees.

It would be far better, he believes, if the U.S. war spending could be directed to his hard-pressed community.

Although the U.S. has spent nearly $1 trillion on the two wars, and is certain to spend more, Ryan’s argument suffers from two significant misconceptions.

First, these wars have been funded by borrowing, a decision originally made by former President George W. Bush and continued by Barack Obama.

The actual tax money of Binghamton residents has been spent on other government functions.

Second, despite these two wars, military spending is still a relatively low percentage of gross domestic product. That ratio hit its peak, 38 percent, during World War II. It was about 15 percent during Korea and about 10 percent during Vietnam.

It reached its low point in 1999, at about 3.5 percent, and it is just under 5 percent today.

Here’s the real reason the federal government is so strapped:

At points during the 1960s, during the height of the Vietnam War, military spending was 40 percent of all federal spending.

Entitlement spending — basically just Social Security at that point — was 20 percent of the budget.

Today, that picture is reversed — military spending is only 19 percent of federal outlays, and entitlement spending is more than 40 percent, funding a host of programs which were just beginning or didn’t exist in the 1960s.

In Binghamton, 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, 9 percent is unemployed and about 18 percent is over 65.

In myriad ways, the federal government is probably spending more — not less — than ever before on the town’s citizenry.

While we sympathize with the mayor’s problems, his frustration is misplaced.

The federal government could probably give him more money to run his city if it wasn’t already spending so much to support his citizens.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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