Maine Representative Bobbi Beavers: “Time to invest in the people”
As a member of the Maine House, I'm familiar with how difficult budget decisions are when money’s tight. We all have strong opinions about how to allocate limited state revenue among worthy programs and services. Do we put more dollars toward education? Do we repair another bridge? One thing we all agree on: wasting hard-earned dollars contributed by Maine taxpayers is not an option.
Unfortunately, in our nation’s capital, budget plans don’t seem to reflect that same commitment. In the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2017, the largest share of the federal discretionary budget, which Congress votes on annually, is allocated to the Pentagon. Meanwhile funding for domestic needs compete for the rest of the discretionary pot. With this set up, vital programs in Maine, such as affordable education, access to health care, care for veterans returning from war, and repairing crumbling infrastructure, are often shortchanged. Without proper investment at the federal level, funding the essentials in the states becomes more difficult with each passing year.
Adding insult to injury, many of the Pentagon programs are for weapons that are over-budget, unnecessary, and inappropriate for modern day security threats. Take, for example, our oversized nuclear weapons arsenal.
Over the next 30 years, the Pentagon plans to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, at a staggering price tag of $1 trillion. Experts and former Pentagon officials agree that this plan is neither strategic, nor cost effective. Former top nuclear commander, Gen. James Cartwright (Ret.) stated recently that “the current ICBM structure, the way it’s based and the way it operates, is probably not something that we need to carry to the future.”
Current plans contradict President Obama’s promise that “the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons” and “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.” If our leaders are truly committed to reducing our reliance on nuclear weapons, spending $1 trillion to upgrade them is the wrong path forward.
There are many better ways to spend that money. Here in Maine, sustainable funding for K-12 education has been a hot topic, leading to the creation of the statewide Commission to Reform Public Education Funding and Improve Student Performance in Maine. Just a fraction of the money being spent on the nuclear arsenal would close the gap for our schools across Maine and across the country. It makes sense to invest in our constituents’ immediate needs and the programs that we know will help them be productive citizens right now, rather than spending enormous amounts of money on weapons that are of questionable value and use.
The kicker is that these policies and this spending do not make us safer. Our weapons infrastructure was designed for the Cold War, not the tactics we are seeing with ISIS and other extremist groups. There is no question that we must have a military that can respond to the threat of extremist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. However, that requires a strategic military with smart investments, something we are not getting when defense contractors make policy, not our military leaders.
Efficient, effective government spending should not be a partisan issue. Bringing runaway Pentagon spending under control and shrinking the nuclear arsenal is a necessary first step toward smarter investments in our country, our people, and our future. Right now we seem on track to squander money at the expense of educating the next generation to compete globally. I hope that policymakers in Washington, including Maine’s U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, will advocate for the right investments for a truly secure future.
Roberta Beavers is a Maine state representative, representing District 2 and WAND’s Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL) program.