Recent news and media hype concerning billionaires blasting themselves into outer space leaves this concerned resident of planet earth-shaking his head in disgust.

We live in a distorted world where a private citizen can spend millions to secure a seat on a spacecraft for billionaires while people clog every intersection begging for money.

There are 4,500 homeless school children in the Broward School District, public education is in shambles, homeless beg at every intersection, infrastructure is crumbling and yet the wealthy 1% have seen their share of the nation’s wealth increase to higher and higher levels. Perhaps these billionaires are figuring a way to leave us all behind once they finish extracting all the prosperity from the middle class, to start some colony in space, safely away from the turmoil and ruin back left behind here on earth.

America has always been quick to villainize those who talk seriously about such economic inequality. Labels and accusations are too easily used to tarnish those who speak of the injustices in our society. The dirty slurs of liberal, progressive, socialist, free-loader are all too effective throughout much of our history. Instead of welcoming programs that would lift 1.2 million children out of poverty, we allow the right-wing distortion machine to frame the argument as a return to the days of Welfare Queens and people taking advantage of the system. But yet these same people backed a president who proudly proclaimed that he took full advantage of the system to create his personal wealth and not pay taxes. So it’s ok for a white male to use the system for personal gain and not pay any taxes on his millions but when it’s a Black female trying to feed her children, then there’s a problem. Perhaps there is more to this systematic racism argument then some of us white folk want to accept.

Here in our island City and elsewhere, July and August are busy as municipalities finalize budgets for the next fiscal year. Tough choices on infrastructure, labor cost, neighborhood projects, park facilities, and needed programs for seniors will have to be made. Everyone wants to pay city staff more money and have more park facilities but you need revenue to pay the cost of such big-ticket items, and balancing these factors is not an easy task.

Having a more realistic national policy for health care coverage, education, child care, infrastructure, drug addiction, homelessness, mental health initiatives would free up millions in local budgets each year. Available funding could then be spent on local programs for youth, services to the elderly, public safety, and so much more. Just like with local budgets, some might argue where the money will come from nationally to pay for such programs, that the money has to come from somewhere. Indeed it does, and the billions that the wealthy 1% keep accumulating can be taxed correctly rather than at lower and lower rates, treated as income not investments, and no longer allowed to be hidden away in tax loopholes and off-shore tax havens. Level the playing field on taxing income and wealth, then perhaps some of the money now going to the moon will be better spent right here on earth.

Until we see more permanent relief on the national level, local municipalities will continue to struggle with balancing the books. Here in our small city, do we pay for a compensation study only to learn we cannot afford to pay staff higher salaries? Do we cut the training budget for city staff to pay for transportation services for seniors? Do we postpone needed IT upgrades to pay for body cameras for our police department? Tough questions with no easy answers.

Comes the final date for budget approval set in September, all these questions and more will be answered by our elected officials.

Through the process, we cannot look solely at the cost of each line item, or the return on investment only in dollar amounts. How do you put a dollar amount on keeping a young person out of trouble by providing them with after school programs? What is it worth to turn a young mind onto books and creativity at our local library, or to bring elderly residents out of isolation to spend a day at the community center, or to provide affordable child care to working families, or to have clean and safe recreational facilities that all residents can enjoy? All this cost a lot of money with little return in revenue — however the return on the quality of life that we cherish here in our Island City is unmeasurable. Let us keep this in mind as we bring this year’s budget to the finish line over the next two months. Keeping our eye not just on the bottom line but on providing for our residents in a thoughtful, caring and responsible manner that will keep life just better here…

Sal Torre has been a columnist for the Wilton Manors Gazette since its inception. Sal has served on the Wilton Drive Task Force, Budget Review Advisory Board, and Charter Review Board, among others. Sal is currently President of the Westside Association of Wilton Manors and Secretary for the Friend of the Wilton Manors Library. He is employed with Broward County in the Human Services Division.