Women Legislators' Lobby

Minnesota Representative Jennifer Schultz: “U.S. military budget drains Minnesota”

State Rep. Jennifer Schultz

State Rep. Jennifer Schultz

Just like our state budget, the federal budget is both a vision and a blueprint outlining how to meet the needs of our communities with funds from our tax dollars. Americans rely on federal money to be safe, healthy, thriving and economically sound. Federal dollars are used to support schools, police, roads and bridges, clean water, health care and other essential services.

More than half of the federal discretionary budget that Congress appropriates each year goes to the Pentagon, including spending on wars and nuclear weapons. Last year the Department of Defense had its highest budget in history, continuing a trend of spending that has nearly doubled in the last decade.

Continued growth of the Pentagon budget, paired with fiscal pressures to constrain spending overall, is forcing budget trade-offs. As we pour more dollars into the Pentagon, we are not making investments that we need in other areas such as education, infrastructure, mental health, public health or a clean and safe environment. We are not able to provide much-needed support for our veterans, military families and others for whom this support is essential. Minnesota ranks close to the bottom (No. 46) among states in federal dollars received, getting only 72 cents for each federal tax dollar paid.

Across the political spectrum, supporting our men and women in the military and ensuring strong, effective national security is of paramount importance. For our military to sustainably meet national security goals in the 21st century, fiscal discipline is needed at the Pentagon.

One area where Pentagon spending must be reduced is the estimated $1 trillion planned to be spent over the next 30 years to maintain and upgrade the enormous nuclear weapons stockpile. The U.S. currently has an estimated 7,200 nuclear warheads. Since 1945, the U.S. has produced 70,000 nuclear warheads. These weapons are ill-suited to address today's threats like cyber attacks or nuclear terrorism. In fact, greater numbers of nuclear weapons means a higher likelihood for accidents, terrorism and diplomatic crises. Funding is necessary to keep nuclear weapons safe and secure, but savings could be realized by deactivating much of our stockpile.

Pentagon spending needs to stand up to basic accounting scrutiny. This is how we know whether dollars are being used appropriately to benefit our military readiness for today's world or wasted on needless bureaucracy and mismanaged. Unfortunately, the Pentagon is the only federal agency unable to pass an audit.

The Pentagon's budget is also getting a boost from the war spending ("Overseas Contingency Operations") account. A number of things that were once in the Pentagon's budget have migrated to this special slush fund even if they have no direct connection to current combat efforts. The extra $51 billion in war spending proposed for 2016 is more than many federal agencies' entire budgets.

When it comes to our economy, everyone agrees that we must create jobs. Recently, University of Massachusetts economic studies show that Pentagon spending actually ranks last in creating jobs compared to investing the same amount in health care, clean energy or education. It is irresponsible to cut investments that strengthen our economy and benefit Minnesota families while turning a blind eye to obvious areas of potential savings in Pentagon spending.

Congress should focus its work on strengthening the economy and bringing sustainable fiscal discipline to the Pentagon. In Minnesota we have a lot at stake. We need to speak up for the needs here in our community and participate in the federal budget debate going forward.

Jen Schultz is the state representative for district 7A and a member of the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL), a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).

Originally published in the Duluth Budgeteer on June 17, 2016.

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