July 3, 2016

Investing in America’s Greatness

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Many of us look forward to the 4th of July.  Whether it is the time spent with family or taking an opportunity to really celebrate our nation, we relish the ability give the United States of America her due.  As we honor the unique diversity and freedoms we enjoy in our democracy, we understand that we are the beneficiaries of the work and legacy of a group of visionary men and women. 

In fact, the Declaration of Independence states that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” It is, therefore, my privilege to serve the members of my community as a state legislator.  I take my responsibility to work towards sound Wisconsin budgets and policies very seriously. As public servants, both my colleagues and I must always remember that we must act according to the will of the people, even when we when we believe we know best.

For instance, public opinion clearly shows that most Americans value and rely on the services and programs provided by government – healthcare, education, veterans care, etc. Unfortunately, neither our state nor federal budget reflects the people’s will.

Congress recently debated the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill which determines America’s defense policies and authorizes funding for the Pentagon, nuclear weapons, and war.  Year after year, more than half of the federal discretionary budget is slated for the Pentagon budget.  Often used towards weapons programs, these projects look great on paper but are often devastatingly costly.  Many of the weapons systems don't actually work, and the ones that do are not critical to the nation's defense, according to most military experts. 

This year alone, the House and Senate Budget Resolutions included about $90 billion for a slush fund for the Pentagon, known as Overseas Contingency Operations. This fund is an outrageous budget scheme, allowing the Pentagon to evade the restrictions of the Budget Control Act’s spending caps. Across the political spectrum, supporting our military soldiers, their families and ensuring effective national security is of paramount importance.  However, just like in the state of Wisconsin, even in discussions of war and protection, fiscal discipline is needed at the Pentagon. Although some believe that $90 billion is what is needed for operations in Afghanistan, fighting ISIL, and other emergencies, I know that we have to provide a comparable level of economic security and sufficient resources here at home.

The Pentagon budget, much like our poorly conceived Wisconsin state budget is indicative of Governor Scott Walker’s lack of leadership, also needs to stand up to basic accounting scrutiny. That's how we can determine if our tax dollars are adequately addressing 21st century security threats or are wasted with excessive bureaucracy, outdated weaponry, and mismanagement. Much like the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the Pentagon is the only federal agency unable to pass an audit. At the same time, important federal programs – like food assistance, transportation, housing assistance, and infrastructure – are being cut. State programs like Senior Care, Education, Health Care, and Transportation are under threat.  When income inequality and economic security continues to plague our nation, Congress and our State legislature should carefully scrutinize whether our tax dollars are being invested in a way that gives all of our citizens a fair shot and a pathway to success. Clearly, following the same budget blueprint that gives so much money to the wealthy and to wars is not the answer.

As a state legislator, I want what is best for my constituents, community, state and country. When the budget debate continues this summer, I urge investment of our limited federal and state dollars in sectors that will create productive jobs, help our economy grow for years to come, set our children up for a bright future, and honor the founding fathers’ vision of a prosperous America. We must be wise with our resources. We need clear priorities for our spending that reflects what we care about. Let us stumble in the years to come because of the shaky foundation that we are laying today.

Senator Lena C. Taylor is Wisconsin State Senator, represents the 4th Senate District and serves on the Joint Committee on Finance (ranking Democrat), the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and the Agriculture, Small Business, and Tourism Committee. Taylor is a member of the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL), a program of Women’s Action for New Directions.