Emboldened by the Bush administration's Office of Management and Budget, which called for cuts in federal funding for multi-jurisdictional drug task forces and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, as well as by conservative watchdog groups such as Citizens Against Government Waste, which criticized spending inside the drug czar's office, Congress made significant dents in funding for a number of drug war programs:
One program lined up for the budget ax that survived intact is HIDTA. The Bush administration wanted to slash its funding in half and move it out of the drug czar's office and into the Justice Department, but after a strong campaign by law enforcement lobbyists, that didn't happen. HIDTA instead got a $1 million budget increase, but that is effectively a small cut because it doesn't keep up with inflation over last year. Another program, Byrne/Justice discretionary grants to localities, went from $159 million in 2004 and $168 million last year to $191 million this year. But that increase is small compared with the cuts in the Byrne block grants.
- Byrne/Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) block grants to the states: Cut from $725 million in 2004 and $625 million last year to $416 million this year.
- ONDCP media campaign: Cut by $20 million.
- President's student drug testing fund: Cut by $1 million.
- Safe and Drug-Free Schools program: Cut by $100 million.
- Drug Court Discretionary Grant program: Cut from $40 million to $10 million.
"The Byrne grant and the media campaign cuts are the most significant," said Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director and Capitol Hill denizen Bill Piper. "Those Byrne block grants go directly to the states and keep the task forces alive. If that money were to disappear, the states wouldn't be able to afford a lot of their drug war. The more we cut into the federal subsidies for the drug war, the more likely we are to get reform in the states. We've already seen some of that in the last couple years, where Byrne cuts combined with economic recession forced the states to make some tough choices, and some of them reformed their drug laws as a result," he said.
That's what's happening in Texas, where budget cuts have forced Governor Perry to make tough choices, shifting Byrne grant money from rural drug task forces to other criminal justice priorities like drug courts and border security. I agree with the sentiment expressed by regular Grits visitor kaptinemo in the comments to this post:
how much longer does anyone believe that we can afford this 'rich man's hobby' of a DrugWar? How much longer can a politician afford to explain to an unemployed factory worker whose job has vanished and whose unemployment bennies have run out that to 'save' his kids from drugs (when ol' Joe Sixpack will soon have things like losing the mortgage and feeding those kids to worry about) he has to divert funds from those social safety net programs to pay for the fancy toys of DrugWarriors?How long indeed? BTW, if Republicans including President Bush's Office of Management and Budget want to cut drug war programs, who is leading the charge to save them? That's right -- Congressional Democrats. John Kerry and Tom Harkin are the Byrne grant program's biggest Senate supporters. I've argued before that Democrats need to get over their reflexive Bush-bashing on this and get behind budget cuts for Byrne grants and HIDTA programs -- after all, even a stopped clock is right twice per day.