My Turn: Taxes, budgets and nuclear weapons
Each April 15, Tax Day, the United States funds its priorities. In our democracy we want to believe that our government will make the best choices as it spends our money. As Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine states, "budgets are moral documents." They speak volumes as to our priorities, who we are as a people and how we are perceived in the world.
These budgets fund everything from federal school lunch and environmental protection to nuclear weapons programs. At a time when concern is growing about the slow death of the planet from the challenge of climate change, we often fail to acknowledge the still-present threat of nuclear catastrophe and possible extinction from nuclear war. Is this inertia due to a sense of hopelessness or to a lack of awareness of the scope of the problem?
Public opinion now shows that 73 percent of Americans favor elimination of nuclear weapons entirely. So what is the cost to our American communities of these weapons systems? Unfortunately in our government of the people, by the people and for the people, this funding has lost the transparency of public scrutiny either by design or oversight in a budgetary and bureaucratic shell game.
The dollar amount has become a number that is difficult to calculate, because components are buried in separate departments from the Department of Defense to the Department of Energy. Steven Kosiak, vice president of budget studies for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis published his work on "Spending on U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces" in 2006. His analysis concludes that current annual U.S. funding for nuclear-related forces and activities amounts to $54 billion.
Combining data from this report with resources from the U.S. Census '06 population estimates and the 2008 U.S. federal budget, we can calculate the approximate current per capita nuclear expenditure for Lamoille County, where I live, at $175. What that means is that in the 2007 tax year, the cost of nuclear weapons alone took $4,309,010 out of the county that would otherwise be available for building fire stations, funding school enrichment programs, or preserving the historic buildings that help to give our region its unique flavor.
There is an opportunity to begin a real change in direction of nuclear policy. Public opinion is changing. Conservative leaders including Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn of the Nuclear Threat Initiative are embracing a nuclear-free world. We must lead by example. The means truly are the ends in the making, or as Martin Luther King stated: "We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means."
We invite all to join us in this effort. Support the efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons by endorsing the Campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Free World at www.nuclearweapons free.org .
Winslow Myers of Stowe serves on the board of Beyond War, a nonprofit educational foundation.