Center City: Philadelphia City Council Backs Reduced Federal Spending for Military

Khaleef Agbemehia, 4, stalwartly held his sign in support for reduced federal spending for the military.
Khaleef Agbemehia, 4, held his sign supporting reduced federal spending for the military.

Placards reading “Books not bombs” and “Fund kids not wars” were raised when the Philadelphia City Council voted to approve a resolution  calling on the U.S. Congress to cut military spending.

The resolution, introduced by 7th District Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sanchez, called on the U.S. Congress to bring the troops home from the war in Afghanistan and to use the money saved by ending that war to fund education, human services, jobs creation and care for veterans and their families.

The request for increased federal funding for domestic needs in the non-binding, symbolic resolution comes at a time when Philadelphia’s city government and its school district are faced with budgetary shortfalls requiring cuts in services and increases in local taxes.

That resolution approved by City Council is similar to measures approved by over 100 cities and towns in nearly two dozen states from Maine to North Carolina and Oregon.

The resolution was drafted by the Delaware Valley New Priorities Network, a loose organization of nearly a dozen labor, faith and peace activists in this area. Network members pleaded their cause to Council members, to the applause of their peers and colleagues.

“This resolution is not about ideology; it’s about survival,” veteran Philadelphia labor leader Tom Cronin said during his testimony before the Council. “We’re at a point where this kind of spending is no longer sustainable.”

Cronin also testified that military operations made up roughly 57 percent of discretionary spending at a national level while education only made up about 6 percent. “Many of those huge military spending contracts are locked into place,” he said. “The war in Afghanistan isn’t.”

Irving Jones, 57, serves as chairman of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Writers Union. He called the current productions of munitions for war “a waste.”

Jones, during an interview, said the money used for weaponry would be better used on “a school system that is failing for lack of funding … city workers out of work and state employees that need a raise.”

City Councilwoman Maria Sanchez waited for the vote on her resolution to support a cut in defense spending.

The resolution also stated that lack of funding in Philadelphia has helped cause a current deficit of $60 million in the city. That deficit  is expected to balloon to over $2 billion over the next five years. The resolution stated that since 2001 the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost Philadelphia taxpayers more than $5 billion.

Councilwoman Sanchez asked her colleagues to suspend the rules to vote on the measure that had been examined during the previous three meetings.

“The deliberations you’ve seen today in council are evidence of the crisis that we have across the country,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said she believes that it’s time to bring the funds spent on war back to domestic issues that impact the city. She cited the desperate pleas for school funding and a debate about real estate taxes for small businesses that were also heard on Thursday.

“We need that money home at this time,” Sanchez said.

Councilwoman Sanchez and fellow supporters celebrated the passing of Sanchez' resolution after the approval.

Jane Dugdale, 69, co-convener of the Delaware Valley New Priorities Network, was pleased with passage of the resolution and expressed her opinion that the money must come back home.

“For too long, the domestic spending has been taking cuts and and has been completely ignored in the national conversation,” Dugdale said. “Our effort has been to try to change … this conversation.”

While she is happy to see the city now on record supporting the resolution, Dugdale said there is still work to be done.

“Our job is now to (spread the word) into surrounding neighborhoods and municipalities in Southeast Pennsylvania,” Dugdale said. “We’ll also be calling Congress and our congressional representatives and making them very aware of this resolution.”

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