Mayors Urge End to Iraq, Afghanistan Wars

As federal officials slash programs that aid state and local governments, mayors say savings should be found elsewhere.
by | June 17, 2011
 

(Updated 6/20, 11:55 a.m.)

The country's mayors have overwhelmingly called for the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, arguing that a time when federal programs for local governments are being cut, money to support them can be found by stopping the military engagements.

For months, mayors have bemoaned reduced federal spending and planned cuts for programs that they hold dear: Community Development Block Grants, homeland security grants, and transportation spending, among others.

Over the years, many city councils nationwide have passed similar resolutions, which are entirely symbolic. Today's vote -- which happened at the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Baltimore -- took the rhetoric to a new level. Previous calls for the wars' end have come from more liberal city councils that generally indicated a community’s opposition to the wisdom of the war itself. But the resolution today made the case that the wars should be ended largely for financially reasons.

About 150 mayors attended the conference in Baltimore. Some were skeptical of the resolution, though it garnered more support once an amendment was included making clear that mayors support the troops themselves.

It’s difficult to estimate the precise cost of the wars, though it’s likely around $126 billion a year (according to the resolution [p. 169/223] outlined by the U.S. Conference of Mayors). The mayors argue that the funding should instead by put into American infrastructure, job creation, aid to cities and states, and sustainable energy programs.

“We need to take care of safety here at home,” said Elizabeth Kautz, mayor of Burnsville, Minn. and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, at a Friday press conference. "That's our first priority as mayors."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an advocate for investments in transportation and infrastructure, said that the federal government should be spending its money on bridges in the U.S. -- not Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, federal officials have proposed cuts that are just a fraction of that amount to domestic programs that mayors view as key. For example, President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget proposes cutting $300 million from the Community Development Block Grant program, which funds housing and job training for low and middle income residents.

More recently, more than 30 cities lost out on anti-terrorism funding from the federal government as a result of losses to grant programs. And as the House and Senate move forward with their transportation bills, it's increasingly clear that they won't make the level of investments called for by most transportation experts.

This marks the first time the conference has called for the end of a military engagement since the Vietnam War.

Still, some mayors approached the resolution with skepticism. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter questioned whether it was appropriate for the conference to make military recommendations given their relative lack of knowledge of the details of those conflicts. He also said it's a "slightly false debate" to suggest the federal government must decide between military spending and aid to localities.

Mesa, Ariz. Mayor Scott Smith said the mayors may be sending a mixed message with their vote, citing the ambiguity of whether the mayors were calling for the wars' end for political or financial reasons.

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