We have a prioritization problem in this country — one that has become even more brutally apparent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of putting a Band-Aid on our problems, we need to start investing in programs and resources that are beneficial from the outset.

The way we spend our money speaks to the way we are as a society, and by all accounts, we have some serious improvements to make.

We are now at a turning point where our government can either move toward rebuilding and improving our communities or continue on with the status quo, which has become even less sustainable in recent months.

State Rep. Cathy Kipp

The Colorado state legislature has had to slash billions of dollars from its budget due to COVID-19, affecting everyone in the state. Strict regulations like the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights have made it difficult for state legislators to monetarily account for the new set of challenges that the people of Colorado are facing.

There is, however, a place where discretionary spending is at a surplus. Together with the nuclear weapons program, the Department of Defense has a $740 billion budget, consuming the government’s largest amount of discretionary spending.

Last year, the average Colorado taxpayer paid $3,529.82 in federal income taxes to the Pentagon and military. Over half of that went to military contractors, and even still the Pentagon has returned more than $80 billion of unused funds to the Department of Treasury since 2013. This just doesn’t add up.

Right now, with Congress getting ready to vote on the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), we have the opportunity to reevaluate where the government is putting its resources. Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Reps. Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan, have put forward amendments to reduce the Pentagon budget by 10%, or $74 billion, to be re-invested elsewhere.

These amendments are not only important, but a necessary step in redirecting governmental funds toward the human needs of the American people. I encourage our Colorado leaders, like Rep. Joe Neguse, as well as Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner to support these and other efforts that scale back the Pentagon budget.

Women legislators like myself from across the country have seen the effects of drastic cuts to domestic programs, while Pentagon spending has grown so much that there is money to spare.

In the midst of a global pandemic and economic recession, the world’s largest bureaucracy can more than handle modest reductions; cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services are not the way to make our nation more secure.

Re-prioritizing federal monies, furthermore, would have real benefits here at home. Colorado, and states across the U.S., would benefit greatly by having the funds to invest more in education, public health and affordable housing. In Colorado alone, $74 billion could buy 2 billion coronavirus tests, pay for 903,465 elementary school teachers for a year, or 985,768 clean energy jobs.

When we came back into session at the end of May, we had to close a $3.3 billion state budget shortfall, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We prioritized as much funding as we could for K-12 education and critical services for our most vulnerable.

We repeatedly asked Congress to pass additional relief to help us protect our schools, support our local governments and prevent these devastating cuts. Instead, politicians in Washington have been playing partisan politics with state budgets.

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This pandemic has left many Coloradans are struggling to make ends meet, which is why the legislature allocated $70 million in federal funds to help small businesses, provide utility relief, support our food pantries and help Coloradans pay their rent or mortgage.

Our state could provide more support to Coloradans if Congress and the president would do their jobs and prioritize funding for our states to effectively respond to this pandemic.

On the other hand, continuing to give money to the military-industrial complex, rather than toward essential services in local communities, is only hurting the American people.

The Pentagon not only generates monetary waste, but its wasteful practices are also having a detrimental impact on our environment.

The Pentagon is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum, utilizing more than 100 million barrels of oil to power ships, vehicles, aircraft and ground operations each year.

Cutting back on Pentagon spending would not be signaling to the world that we are weakening our defense, but rather that we are reallocating our resources to better secure Americans’ lives and livelihoods while also decreasing our country’s contributions to climate change.

We shouldn’t have to suffer through another health, environmental or economic crisis to reassess our priorities. Our government has an opportunity to make changes that address the current needs of Americans, while also working toward creating a better future for our young people.

Improving health care and funding education will make our country a safer place; bureaucratic waste, nuclear weapons and contractor greed will not. It’s time to focus the fight here at home. 

State Rep. Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins, represents Colorado State House District 52. 

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Cathy Kipp, of Fort Collins, represents District 52 in the Colorado House of Representatives.