WILMINGTON, N.C. — When Engine 5 pulled up to a burning house on Woodlawn Avenue early on March 19, the firefighters were told that a man might be trapped in the back left bedroom. As two firemen trained a hose toward that corner, Capt. Don Ragavage crawled through smoke and flames to search for the missing resident.
It was an inopportune moment for the water pressure to plummet. But that is what happened when Engine 5’s motor, strained to the limit by 16 years and more than 100,000 miles of hard service, abruptly sputtered and died.
Fortunately, another truck was available to replace the old one, and it turned out that the missing resident wasn't home. This time there were no injuries or deaths. The chief had been lobbying for a new truck for years.
As cities and towns make the decisions NOT to replace old, and failing equipment, it's only a matter of time before injuries and deaths occur. As the budget cuts get deeper, terrible decisions are being made in municipalities around the nation.
To help close a budget gap, Philly announced it will shutter 26 elementary- and middle-school cafeteria kitchens, many of them "in the city's poorest neighborhoods," reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The affected schools "will switch from food prepared in the school by cafeteria workers to meals cooked, plated, and frozen several days before consumption and trucked in from a warehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y."
Not having to maintain functioning kitchens and pay workers to staff them will shave $2.3 million from the city's budget—but won't go very far toward decreasing its $629 million deficit. And the collateral damage will likely be large. To wit:
• An untold number of kitchen workers are tossed off the city's payrolls and into the city's already-swollen ranks of the unemployed. They'll adjust their spending accordingly, putting yet more pressure on the local tax base.
This move also hurts local food suppliers and distributors. In a bad economy that might just be the tipping point for those companies going under. And of course the prepackaged food will be the kind of food that contributes to childhood obesity.
The most important point is this:
And as the University of Texas economist James K. Galbraith has demonstrated numerous times over the past year (most recently here), the most-dire problems facing the nation are the related ones of underemployment and underinvestment in vital infrastructure, not budget deficits or the national debt.
The spending cuts serve to put more people out of work. What we need is investment in the future - not a return to the breadlines of the Great Depression.
cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org