Tag Archives: budget

Every gun that is made

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

-President Dwight Eisenhower

The public assumes that the US withdrawal from Iraq would reduce defense spending. The New York Times reported that the proposed US Defense Department 2009 budget “when adjusted for inflation, will have reached its highest level since World War II.” Although the Federal Government committed over $700 billion  to stabilize the financial markets, it will also spend $711 billion  on defense. Is it likely that we’ll see significant reductions in military spending? Probably not. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan has taken its toll on military equipment and it needs to be replaced. Those who serve in the military need better pay and health care. The development of new and advanced weapons systems will require significant investments. We will need to develop a full spectrum military. We will also see military spending continue to rapidly increase in most countries. The world is still too dangerous.

The next President of the United States will have to make either unpopular reductions in defense department spending or continue the explosive growth of the federal deficit. How will he fund Medicare which is expected to go broke in 2018? How will the federal government, which owes foreign investors over ten trillion dollars, reduce our indebtedness?

The President must also meet the demands of reducing poverty, disease, and hunger. He must recommit to making substantial investments to address our domestic needs. He must also maintain sustainable funding for our military needs. Will the next administration want the US to continue to be a military, financial, and cultural superpower? Do we want to? Can we afford it?

As a superpower nation, we are clearly being reminded of the moral requirement to look beyond our military needs.

  • Each year, more than 8 million people around the world die because they are too poor to stay alive.
  • Over 1 billion people—1 in 6 people around the world—live in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1 a day.
  • More than 800 million go hungry each day.
  • Over 100 million primary school-age children cannot go to school.

Based on definitions established by the World Bank, nearly 3 billion people-half of the world’s population-are considered poor. In his recent address at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Pope Benedict XVI blamed food shortages on “feverish speculation” that drives up prices, along with “corruption in public life or growing investments in weapons and sophisticated military technologies to the detriment of people’s primary needs.”

“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

-James Madison, Political Observations, 1795

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Do you have any skin in the game?

In King County our budget process has always been placed above political ambition and the parochial self-interest of different branches. It is my fervent hope that that tradition will continue as we grapple with the most difficult budget the County has ever faced. Unfortunately, that isn’t the tempo of recent public discussions.

Who stands to lose if we continue down the battle path, you the taxpayer, voter, and resident of King County? So the question for you: do you have any skin in this budgetary game?

With all of the recent posturing, press releases, press conferences and rumor mongering, one of the most critical services the County provides has received very little discussion. In this day and age of confrontational politics and news, it could become the unfortunate victim.

So, let me digress a bit. Remember these points. The human body is an ecosystem, flourishing and nurturing hundreds of millions upon billions of bacteria and microbes; the history of disease should worry us; human beings are not a stationary species; and, when we kiss, hold or shake hands, share our food, or engage in sex, we are simply mixing up a new batch of microbial material!

History is replete with the impacts of infectious diseases. Insects, birds, rats, plants, and humans have transmitted these diseases. They have reshaped history and retired entire cultures. Germs reshaped the history of the lands we now call the United States. Disease nearly eradicated the Native American population of North America. It is estimated that two thirds of the Native American population died of illnesses introduced by Europeans. Do we face these same threats today? According to all of the experts, the threat is growing at an ever-increasing rate. These organisms are mutating and evolving with remarkable speed with increasing resistance to medical treatment: they are genetically shrewd and wish to survive. SARS, avian influenza, hantavirus and extensively drug resistant tuberculosis are just a few recent examples of newly identified infectious agents that have caused serious human illness. Our food production and distribution system makes it easier than ever for contaminated products to reach large numbers of persons spread over wide geographic areas. So far this year the US has seen more measles cases than any time since 1996, primarily do to infected persons from other countries traveling to the US and setting off a series of outbreaks. How does all of this happen?

Wikipedia provided this description of the skin: ”The skin supports its own ecosystems of microorganisms, including yeasts and bacteria, which cannot be removed by any amount of cleaning. Estimates place the number of individual bacteria on the surface of one square inch (6.5 square cm) of human skin at 50 million though this figure varies greatly over the average 20 feet2 (1.9 m²) of human skin. Oily surfaces, such as the face, may contain over 500 million bacteria per square inch (6.5 cm²).” That is just the skin!

But, it isn’t just our skin that houses bacteria and microbes. Dr. Trudy M. Wassenaar, in “Bacteria more than Pathogens” says, “We house millions of bacteria on our skin and in our nose, mouth, and gut:

  • Up to 500 species can be found as normal oral flora
  • There can easily be 25 species living in a single mouth
  • A milliliter of saliva can contain as many as 40 million (4 x 107) bacterial cells
  • 108 bacterial cells present in the cecum (the initial part of the colon) per milliliter of content is normal and many of these species are different from those found in the mouth
  • We are born sterile (free of bacteria) but within hours we are colonized by our little friends, not to be left alone again.”

NPR reports, “The human body contains 20 times more microbes than it does cells. In fact, a visitor from outer space might think the human race is just one big chain of microbe hotels.” Inside and out, we are just one big carrier of other life forms!

But, why should King County government care about your body or mine?

Typically, we live in a natural, harmonious balance with the multitude of organism we naturally carry within our bodies and even more potential pathogens living in innumerable natural reservoirs in the environment, including animals, water and soil (I.e., influenza and avian influenza viruses, Legionnaire’s disease, leptospirosis, E. coli, salmonella and other food-borne diseases). We’re literally surrounded by infectious agents.

But, all too often, that natural balance is upset, leaving us vulnerable to disease. Germs constantly learn new tricks – development of drug resistance and new virulence traits allow them to cause disease more effectively in human populations. In addition, new infectious agents emerge when we upset the balance between man and nature, encroaching on new habitats (SARS).

As Mary Wilson from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Medical School in her seminal paper “ Travel and the Emergence of Infectious Diseases” states, “Today’s massive movement of humans and materials sets the stage for mixing diverse genetic pools at rates and in combinations previously unknown. Concomitant changes in the climate, technology, land uses, human behavior, and demographics converge to favor the emergence of infectious diseases caused by a broad range of organisms in humans, as well as in plants and animals.” Simply put, the introduction of an infectious disease can happen any day, and at anytime. It is not a matter of if, but when. They will arrive with someone, likely a visitor, relative, friend, or a neighbor.

What organizations are there to protect us? The United Nation’s World Health Organization, the US Center for Disease Control, and most importantly, our King County Department of Public Health are responsible for our health safety. The Department of Public Health is our key local first responder, our community’s immune system. It is that department that has the primary responsibility to prevent, detect, treat, and control the widespread introduction of diseases.

Our local Public Health Agency quietly protects us from infectious diseases every single day. They insure that our food and water are safe to consume. If the local and national health and economic security of the general population were our highest priority, public health would also be our highest priority. It is there that the greatest number of lives can be saved and protected. It is that department who we will all turn to when the infection eventually lands as SeaTac; or arrives at our ports; or drives here on I-90 or I-5. If the Department of Public Health fails, we all lose.

Balancing a budget is a challenge. Public Health must be a priority. One can make a compelling case for the preservation of social safety nets, public safety, and justice. We will need a balanced approach. This is not a time for the cynical and expected game of political one-upmanship. Nor should we tolerate the voices that play to our fears, suspicions, distrust, and our base interest. We are a better community when the voices we hear speak to our optimism, even in the most trying times. Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. Maybe, there is a glimmer of a chance that the common good will be united with common sense. Maybe.

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Summer sun, parks fun and budgets

I heard someone use the phrase “lazy days of summer” recently and realized this summer hasn’t really been leisurely at all for King County. In fact, it’s busier than ever!

Besides the diverse entertainment line up in King County Parks, we are also moving ahead with our budget process and finding the opportunities in this big challenge we face.

A couple weeks ago, all King County departments turned in their preliminary budget documents for Executive and Budget office review. Because of the magnitude of the deficit, every single department director in King County has been asked for targeted reductions in the 2009 budget. But criminal justice is both our largest expense and highest priority, so cuts in that area are significantly less than those being taken in other areas.

Still, a preliminary look at the budget submittals has already turned up some innovative proposals and partnerships that preserve services while reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, and in some cases, increasing revenue – all of which will help us close the $68 million gap we’re facing. At least for this year.

We are working closely with our department directors, separately elected officials, and labor unions in King County to create a countywide budget that takes into account all of the services we provide to county residents and employees, rather than looking at each department as a silo.

But as I’ve mentioned every time I discuss the budget, we are not alone in dealing with this challenge and the gaps will grow in years to come because for decades county governments have been given a very limited list of options for funding their services. In recent years, those options have been further limited by growth management decisions (which have rightly funneled growth to urban areas rather than sprawl) and tax limiting measures. Basically, times have changed but our funding mechanisms have not kept pace. Now many counties in the state are facing a major budget gap or looming one – only the magnitude is different.

Like rowing a boat, all oars must pull in the same direction to make progress. So we are reaching out to other county leaders in the same boat with budget gaps and enlisting their support in Olympia from the legislature to give all counties more tools for funding county services.

For now though, I turn my attention to reviewing the budgets submitted by county department directors. We’ll work them over throughout the summer to create a balanced budget for submission to the county council.

It won’t be a lazy summer, but it will be a productive one that yields a workable budget in the fall.