Group Reports On What War Money Could Buy N.J.

Examiner — Thursday, August 23, 2007

Staff Writer

Congressman Chris Smith (R-4th District) wouldn't face antiwar activists on Aug. 16 when they wanted to hand-deliver a report to him regarding what New Jersey taxpayers' money could be better spent on if it wasn't going toward funding the war in Iraq.

Earlier that morning, Smith met with 12 constituents regarding their concerns about the war. However, according to Eve Weissman, an organizer for New Jersey Citizen Action (NJCA), Smith would not allow organizers from her group into the meeting, nor would he emerge from his office to accept the report from her afterward.

Although Smith's office told the meeting organizer that the press could not attend the meeting, which was related to the Examiner on the Wednesday prior to the event, Smith's office invited The Times, of Trenton, to cover the event. Smith did not return calls the Examiner made to him regarding the meeting or the report, and Smith's press agent's secretary said on Friday that his press agent would be out of the office during the week of Aug. 20.

In a telephone interview, Weissman alleged that Smith has been dodging antiwar activists and questions regarding his stance on the war. She also said he has related that the Aug. 16 meeting suffices for having to attend a town hall at the Jackson library from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 28.

"We have been planning for this event for two months," Weissman said of the town hall. "We thought that the [Aug. 16] meeting could be something that he could use as an excuse to justify not going to the Aug. 28 meeting, and that is exactly what he did."

Weissman said that the town hall is the culmination of a summer project created by NJCA and local chapters of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq to try to get New Jersey congressmen who have supported the war in the past to rethink their positions on the issue.

"With the total cost of the Iraq war now approaching half a trillion dollars, $456 billion and counting, New Jersey taxpayers' share of that cost is now more than $20.8 billion and rising," Weissman said.

The report that NJCA wanted to handdeliver to Smith but instead gave to one of his representatives, titled "Getting U.S. Back on Track" and authored by USAction Education Fund, illustrates how modest new investments in neglected priorities such as health care and education in New Jersey would amount to a fraction of what is spent every month on the war in Iraq.

"This data highlights how the Bush administration's upside-down priorities have shortchanged New Jersey families and communities," Weissman said. "For a fraction of what New Jersey taxpayers have spent in Iraq, we could be addressing neglected priorities like providing more health care and college scholarships for families in New Jersey."

The report states that New Jersey's $20.8 billion could be spent on health care for 4.6 million adults, which is 2.3 times more than the 1 million uninsured adults in the state. The report also states that New Jersey's portion for the war could also provide health care for 8.3 million children, which is 33 times more than the 250,500 kids without health care in the state. In addition, the money could fully fund Head Start, which has been cut by 7.4 percent since 2001, according to the report. of restoring New Jersey job training funds ($23.9 million) equals about one hour and 44 minutes of Iraq war spending. The cost of restoring New Jersey child-care funds ($8.9 million) equals about 39 minutes of Iraq war spending. The cost of restoring child-support funding ($54.9 million) equals about four hours of Iraq war spending. The cost of restoring New Jersey K-12 education funding ($76.9 million) equals about five hours and 37 minutes of Iraq war spending, according to the report.

Weissman said that members of New Jersey's congressional delegation need to know how such a veto to a domestic federal spending bill would hurt their constituents, and why they must stand together to override it.

Constituents can make their voices heard about what is important to them in Newark on Aug. 25 at a rally and march in Lincoln Park on Broad Street during a People's Organization for Progress event, according to Weissman.

"People need to come together and change the direction of this country on multiple levels," Weissman said.

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