BALTIMORE - The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) opens its 79th annual meeting here June 17 with more than a dozen mayors sponsoring a resolution calling for an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The resolution urges using the hundreds of billions of dollars in savings to pay for job-creating domestic programs in the nation's cities.
The Baltimore City Council unanimously approved the draft USCM resolution May 16 calling on President Obama and Congress to end the decade-long wars and "redirect military spending to domestic priorities." Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake promptly signed the measure and is expected to urge the mayors to approve it during a scheduled plenary USCM debate Monday, June 20.
The resolution states, "The severity of the ongoing economic crisis has created budget shortfalls at all levels of government and requires us to reexamine our national spending priorities."
The American people "are collectively paying approximately $126 billion dollars to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan," the resolution says, adding, "6,024 members of the U.S. armed forces have died in these wars and at least 120,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the coalition attacks began."
Baltimore City Councilmember James B. Kraft introduced the resolution at the request of a broad movement of peace and justice organizations including the Fund Our Communities Coalition, the Maryland NAACP, Casa de Maryland, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994, Code Pink and United For Peace and Justice.
Kraft told the Baltimore Gazette that Baltimore taxpayers contribute about $200 million every year to pay for the wars. "Just imagine what we could be doing with $200 million more in Baltimore," Kraft said. "We certainly wouldn't be raising the water bill."
The peace and justice movement in the Mid-Atlantic region has scheduled a teach-in at Baltimore's Inner Harbor from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on June 17, opening day of the USCM meeting. Grassroots leaders will speak out on the crisis of unemployment and the savage cutbacks in safety net programs for jobless workers and poor people.
The coalition will also stage a "March for Jobs" Saturday, June 18, starting at 11:30 a.m. from Saint Vincent's Church and ending at the Hilton Hotel. Cindy Farquhar, a member of the Fund Our Communities Coalition task force on the mayor's meeting, told the World, "We thought it was very important to focus on the demand for jobs, that nothing is more important than redirecting the money we are wasting on these wars to create good, green jobs in Baltimore and across the nation." Among the sponsors of the march are Full Employment Baltimore, the Green Party of Maryland, Southern Christian Leadership Council, and Out for Justice, an ex-offenders support group.
The Fund Our Communities Coalition call for the teach-in says, "While it's cuts and more cuts for schools, parks, housing, healthcare and the poor, Marylanders contribute more than $2,000 per person, per year, in federal taxes to the Pentagon. It's time to fund our communities! Bring the war dollars home."
The meeting agenda of the nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors reflects the deep economic and social crisis in the nation's cities and towns. "Job creation, transportation, homeland security, immigration and energy efficiency top this year's agenda," declares a USCM press statement. It says, "On the final day of the meeting, the mayors will debate and vote on resolutions including one to speed up the end of the Afghanistan war and redirect war dollars to key domestic needs."
The mayors' group released a 176-city survey during a May 3 news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told reporters that despite the nonstop drumfire for deficit reduction inside the Capital Beltway, "96 percent of the mayors believe that the federal government should increase spending on transportation infrastructure to reverse decades of underinvestment in cities."
The report decried investments such as the millions spent on the "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska. And 80 percent of the mayors place a "low priority" on highway expansion. But repairing crumbling and dangerous bridges, or building new ones, and pumping more funds into green mass transit should be a high priority, Reed said.
The report charged, "In the United States, metropolitan areas account for 86 percent of employment, 90 percent of wage income, and over the next 20 years, 94 percent of the nation's economic growth. But they are burdened with the nation's worst traffic jams, its oldest roads and bridges, and transit systems at capacity. Simply put, these areas are receiving significantly less in federal transportation investments than would reflect their role and importance to the nation's economy."
The mayors' report focuses on measure like the BUILD Act sponsored by Senators John Kerry, D-Mass., and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Tex., and by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. It would appropriate $10 billion in federal funds to leverage more than $100 billion in private sector funds for a National Infrastructure Bank. States the survey, "75 percent of mayors say a national infrastructure bank or expanded availability of federal financing tools such as Transportation Infrastructure and Innovation Act or Build America Bonds would accelerate or increase the number of transportation projects that could be implemented."
Photo: Repairing street collapse after large water main break in Chicago. AP