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Binghamton, NY Marks Tax Day with City Hall Counter Tallying Cost of Iraq, Afghan Wars

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As we continue our Tax Day coverage, we speak to Binghamton, New York Mayor Matt Ryan. He’s taken an unusual step to remind the city’s residents about the expanding costs of the wars. Early next week, the city of Binghamton plans to install a large digital “cost of war” counter on the facade of City Hall. The counter will show that the residents of the city have already spent $138 million on the wars since 2001. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: As we continue our Tax Day coverage, we turn now to the cost of war. According to the National Priorities Project, Americans have collectively spent more than a trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. That’s an average of over $7,000 per person.

In Binghamton, New York, the city’s mayor has taken an unusual step to remind the city’s residents about the expanding costs of those wars.

AMY GOODMAN: Early next week, the city of Binghamton plans to install a large digital “cost of war” counter on the face of City Hall. The counter will show that the residents have already spent $138 million on the wars since 2001, the residents of Binghamton.

Well, we’re joined right now by Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan. He’s joining us from Johnson City, New York.

Matt, Mayor Ryan, why don’t you lay out what this clock is all about?

MAYOR MATT RYAN: Well, this clock will allow us to display the cost of war for our citizens and explain to them exactly what the tradeoffs are for those costs. And we’ve had nine years now of a military budget that I believe is out of control. And we can’t make those same mistakes if we’re going to meet our goals to take care of our citizens, provide good infrastructure and public safety and all the services that they deserve.

So this is just a reminder to the citizens and trying to start a debate about what actually is being spent. I don’t think people reflect on it every day, that we are spending, you know, almost 60 cents out of every tax dollar on the military. And that’s just not sustainable, if we’re going to do the other things that are important, the other important services that governments are supposed to undertake.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What made you decide to do this? And what’s been the reaction among your constituents since you made the announcement?

MAYOR MATT RYAN: Well, I’ve had some, you know, people cheering me on. I’ve had others — and one thing I want to make sure is there was a vet there yesterday that said he thinks this cost of war calculator and these numbers trivialize the human cost. I did mention yesterday, even in my statement, as we had a press conference, that this doesn’t even include the medical costs of returning vets. In the first Gulf War, only a few days long, the residual costs are $8 billion to take care of those vets. Just imagine what this cost is. This is really all about the human cost.

But because our mainstream media doesn’t really cover the war anymore — you know, I grew during the Vietnam War, when it was called the “living room war” — because they don’t cover a lot of what the human costs of war and the pictures that we used to see during the Vietnam War, people — it’s just sort of out of sight, out of mind. And I can’t produce those pictures, but these numbers really should help resonate with people and start a debate about how much money we’re spending on the military.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Ryan, what made you decide to do this? And are you speaking with other mayors around the country?

MAYOR MATT RYAN: You know, I saw — we have a very strong group in our community that approached me about this. And, you know, even when I campaigned for mayor, I marched against the war. I’ve been against the war for a long time. This was an easy decision for me, because I’ve always wanted the — you know, I’m frustrated by what’s happening out there and how — I see how it’s affecting, in those tradeoffs, what we could do with that money and see, especially in these tough budget times, when I’ve had to cut forty-four positions in my first four years, some of the — you know, a big number of those in fire and police, that we can’t afford to keep going forward like this.

So, you know, I’ve been — like I said, I grew up during the Vietnam War. I’ve always questioned the wisdom of some of the wars we’re fighting. But really, this is more about — being a mayor, about the, you know, the kinds of choices we have to make and the priorities we have to make to continue delivering services.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, Matt Ryan, the Mayor of Binghamton, New York.

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