Though miles away from Washington, we, too, have something to contribute to the proposals for budget cuts.
We are fortunate to host defense installations here — Army, Air Force, and homeland security — and therefore how the national budget goes, so goes Colorado Springs. We are constantly reminded by city leaders and the Chamber of Commerce how so much of our economy depends on military spending, that it’s reasonable for us to make a contribution to the debate over cuts.
Here are some suggestions that will contribute the lowering of the national debt, and avoid raising the national debt ceiling (printing paper money whose value is in free-fall).
The three suggestions may offend some readers, so unless you are truly a fiscal conservative or a business person who faced debts before, please read other columns.
First, let’s give up on the golf course at the Air Force Academy.
Annual costs of such a facility range between $500,000 to $1.5 million (especially in the arid climate of Colorado’s high desert). Playing golf at the wonderful municipal course, one of the oldest in the west, would be a great experience for retired Air Force personnel and current officers and cadets.
Last I checked, the dexterity required of a pilot is better honed on a good video game than on the greens. And think about it: if the great Academy gives it up, perhaps all other military bases will see the light and give up on their tax-funded courses, and before you know it we would have saved $100 million annually. One could argue about morale, but when a country is at war in three theaters, when young men and women in uniform are killed in the line of duty, the image of an officer playing golf seems a bit out of place.
Second, while we are tackling the leisure programs of the armed forces, we may want to visit their great athletic programs as well.
Research on semi-professional sports in higher education have shown that they add little to academic excellence, even though they help increase donations from alumni.
But, unlike the University of Colorado, for example, whose financial support from the state is less than 5 percent of its budget, military bases and academies are fully funded by our tax dollars under the label “defense.”
Some would argue that sports build character and teach teamwork. Others would argue that they promote goodwill among the population in general. But when the country is broke and we are at war, are spectator sports really needed? Don’t we teach military teamwork elsewhere, too? Aren’t we proud of our men and women in uniform regardless of their scoring history? Without having data from the AFA on the cost of having a football team, but if we compared it to other universities, one could assume that more than $1 million is spent annually just on this sport.
And one shouldn’t forget the cost of intimidating visiting teams when fighter-jets come swooping down close to the field before a game — how much does that cost? Add up all the savings from all of these sports around all military installations, and some $100 million annually can be saved.
Third, as we are debating cuts in so-called entitlement programs, such a Social Security and Medicare, have we visited the fascinating vortex of military retirees’ benefits?
They have their own pension structure and health-care provision, some of which are much more favorable than those enjoyed by other “volunteers” in other careers — admittedly some more and some less dangerous.
Should a supply officer who never saw combat have preferred treatment as compared to an engineer retiring from a utility company? Should the supply officer have discounts on car-insurance and grocery shopping and dining different from any other citizen? How long must the taxpayer foot the bill of extra privileges?
It sounds heretic, but it’s only because we refuse to examine the largest parts of our budget, entitlements and defense. If we cut 10% from all of those programs, we wouldn’t have a budget deficit.
These three suggestions, and many more like them that many informed readers may suggest themselves, bring out other, more basic issues, such as, volunteer vs. mandatory conscription military, the military as part of the welfare system, and the global role of the military.
How one approaches these issues will influence what cuts one favors. For example, if you favor a volunteer force, then any so-called incentives are unnecessary because those volunteering must have other motives (patriotism, unemployment, family tradition, love of uniforms) than pure financial security.
Likewise, if the military serves as part of the safety net for the unemployed, then different attitudes towards recruitment must be adopted. And finally, if we believe that American soldiers should not be anywhere in the world where strife and civil war are at hand, then budget cuts would be politically palatable.
As Gordon Adam, who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton Administration, claims, cutting about a trillion dollars over the next ten years would not undercut our military preparedness. But are we ready to approach this sacred cow without the hypocrisy of protecting our own local pork?
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS and an honorably discharged first lieutenant from the IDF (1973-1977).