March 9 2011 12:00 AM

Forum addresses federal military spending in light of states and communities struggling to make ends meet

Wednesday, March 9 — Local and federal officials and leaders from neighborhood, religious and human services organizations gathered in Lansing Saturday to criticize the nation’s military budget and called for a shift of federal spending from the Pentagon to jobs and human needs.

Organizers of the event say
the Pentagon’s share of taxes collected has risen out of proportion to
other parts of the federal budget and that struggling states could use
the money instead.

Michigan Forum on Jobs and Human Needs, held at the downtown Central United Methodist Church, was a collaboration between the Michigan Peace Budget Coalition and the Friends Committee on National Legislation, both federal spending advocacy groups.

Forty-six states have budget shortfalls this year totaling $130 billion, according to the National Priorities Project, a think tank and advocacy group that provides research designed to influence federal spending priorities.

With a projected $1.8 billion budget deficit, Michigan is poised to make cuts. Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed cutting the coverage of dental and vision services for adult Medicaid recipients and cuts to K-12 and university funding, among others.

Meanwhile, the National Priorities Project noticed the Obama Administration is requesting $119 billion for the war in Afghanistan this year and another $51 billion for the war in Iraq. This means Michigan needs to pay $2.9 billion in federal taxes this year to fund the wars. About $26.7 million would come from Lansing residents, said Jo Comerford, executive director of the think tank.

So what is the federal government's role in aiding state budgets? Speakers said its attention should at least consider working Americans.

“We’ve seen people struggling to find jobs and manufacturing workers and teachers are being laid off,” said Joan Nelson, director of the local Allen Neighborhood Center, a nonprofit community development agency.

Nelson’s agency helps residents on Lansing’s east side meet basic needs and build sustainable, healthy and stable neighborhoods. But like many nonprofit organizations, its limited budget can’t serve an increasing amount of people in need, she said.

State Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, is particularly concerned about Snyder’s proposed cuts to education. She said a proposed $470 cut to every K-12 student and a 15 percent cut to university funding are the biggest cuts in years.

“Education is the key,” Bauer said. “ Those cuts are devastating to cities like Lansing and East Lansing.”

One idea from the forum is clear: People should make their own decisions on how their tax money is spent. One way to achieve that is to make the public’s voice heard.

“We must speak out … to protect the vulnerable and provide opportunities to all the state residents,” said Bob Sheehan, executive director of Clinton-Eaton-Ingham Community Mental Health.

Bauer agrees that by voicing concerns, people can make changes they want to the state budget.

Lansing City Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar said it’s hard to affect federal funding, but it’s important locally to keep the city’s vital services from being cut.

“My taxes are my country club dues to a civilized society,” Dunbar said Saturday, quoting a line from former state Rep. Lynne Martinez of Lansing. “If we cut services that are provided by those taxes, what kind of society are we?”

Dunbar is spearheading a proposed 4-mill property tax increase to offset the city’s budget deficit, which will be voted on May 3. She said people should vote for the proposal.

“You are not voting on a tax increase, you are choosing the quality of life you want in your city,” Dunbar said.