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want some real change

Skip the double-talk–we
want some real change

Early this summer, members of Congress–including Bill Paxon in the 27th District–agreed on a six-year plan to slash federal aid to state and local governments by $140 billion. A figure that big doesn’t mean much to most people, but once you break it down, it begins to hit home with a vengeance.
So, as we prepare to face the final onslaught of political posturing over the next month, here’s an idea of what the current Republican-controlled Congress wants to do to Monroe County.
The plan Congressman Bill Paxon voted for lays out a bleak future for communities across the nation, a future that will cost Monroe County more than $4 million over the next six years. While the cuts start out slow (only $7 million in 1997), they gather steam every year, until in 2002 the damage comes to a whopping $144 million for the year.
The biggest loss to our community–more than $247 million by 2002–will be for Medicaid, which means a lot of sick people are going to be out in the cold.
There would be $2 million less to prevent or treat drug and alcohol abuse, so we can expect more addicts and alcohol abusers on the sidewalks, more accidents on county roads, more crime in the city’s streets.
Community-development block grants take a nearly $9 million hit. This is money intended to keep neighborhoods from going under, and without it, you can count on more graffiti, more boarded-up buildings, and all the other attractions of lost and drowning neighborhoods. Not to mention fewer Meals on Wheels for seniors, less day care and hits to other crucial federally funded community programs.
Like some reverse Santa Claus, Bill Paxon didn’t forget anybody: less money for going after deadbeat parents, less money for highways, less money for schools, less money for job training and retraining, less money for feeding babies. Apparently family values are only for those who can afford them.
Paxon, Newt Gingrich and their friends in Congress insist that they’re not cutting funds for Monroe County or anywhere else–they’re just slowing the rate of growth. That’s utter nonsense. That’s like plugging a leaky boat in a thunderstorm and throwing away the oars. It’s a recipe for disaster, and we’re the ones in the boat. The figures we have used here are based on current spending laws, adjusted for the cost of living and the number of people eligible. Strip away all the mumbo jumbo and what Paxon et al are giving us is a cost-of-living decrease.
Gingrich & Co. seek to reassure us that local governments can turn to their state governments to make up the difference. That’s almost as good a joke as the old “trickle-down” economics that gave rich people billions on the theory that eventually some of the money would make its way back into our pockets.
We’re still waiting.
The Republican plan whacks the states almost as hard as it does local governments. In fact, some states will be so strapped they’ll have to cut existing aid to cities and counties; we’re already starting to see the effects in New York.
So what can we do in Monroe County? We don’t have a lot of options. The county can cut services–less welfare, a slower response to a 911 call, shabbier schools, more potholes, more elderly homeless–or it can raise property taxes.
The Republicans captured Congress two years ago promising to deliver on their “Contract With America,” a contract that was then and is now a bad deal for the American people.
It’s time to renew the social contract between working Americans and corporate America. Working Americans have the right to expect that, if we work hard and help make our companies successful, we’ll be rewarded, not just with secure jobs, regular raises and opportunities to get ahead, but with a voice on the job.
The modern labor movement emerged from working people’s struggles to build better lives. We challenged what’s wrong with America and championed what’s right with America. We created the world’s strongest economy, lifted working people into the middle class, protected the most vulnerable as well as the more secure, and committed our society to the struggle against discrimination in all its forms.
It’s time to rededicate our nation to its finest values: the inherent dignity of every woman, man and child; respect for working people and recognition for our work; celebration of the diversity of our people; and a sense of common purpose in our companies, our communities and our country.
That is why we are participating in the political process more aggressively and independently than ever before. We are offering union members and their families the information they need to evaluate the candidates, their records and their programs. We want to create an environment where political leaders will stand up for the interests and values of working Americans, not just when they seek public office, but after they are elected.
Our goal is to lift living standards, restore American community and breathe new life into old values like respect for work and rewards for working people. When we do that, we will renew the democratic process and rebuild our nation.
(Ronald Pettengill is president of the Rochester Labor Council, AFL-CIO.)

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