Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune reports that the Department of Public Safety has outspent its budget - and was prepared to slash grant funds to Border Sheriffs, which are used to pay for equipment and overtime - but now they may plug the gap with federal stimulus funds, which is a tad ironic considering the Governor's criticisms of the policy. Reports Grissom:
I've argued before that spending "stimulus" money on law enforcement grants is counterproductive, and that goes double when the state is paying overtime for local Sheriff's deputies, which should normally be paid for out of county coffers. There's no evidence overtime spending has contributed significantly to public safety, as Grissom reported back when she was with the El Paso Times.
The Texas Department of Public Safety is planning to use federal stimulus dollars that Gov. Rick Perry begrudgingly accepted from Washington to plug a hole in the border security budget.
The decision follows a mandate by Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Joe Straus that state agencies chop 5 percent out of their bottom lines to meet an anticipated state budget shortfall. For the Department of Public Safety, which is already struggling financially, the cut ordered last month will mean a $14.6 million hit, and border security funds could take the brunt. The agency is proposing to cut $10.3 million in border security grants to local law enforcement, according to an internal e-mail from DPS director Steve McCraw obtained by the Tribune. "I'm not happy that the efforts on the border might be reduced because of this, but that’s part of operating a state agency," says Texas Public Safety Commission Chairman Allan Polunsky. "Sometimes you have to make hard decisions that are going to be problematic somewhere."
That hole in border funds, though, could be plugged with $16 million in federal stimulus funds that Perry had already planned to dole out to local agencies for border security operations. Perry groused about taking the $15 billion in stimulus funds that Washington sent to Texas last year and said the money should only be spent on one-time expenditures. Since 2006, Texas has dedicated more than $200 million to border security operations. ...
DPS was already $27.5 million in the hole in January, according to McCraw’s e-mail to agency staff earlier this week. He said DPS has been using money from unfilled jobs to keep the agency running. With the mandatory cuts coming on top of the shortfall, the agency will slice funds from several programs, but the largest chunk will come from the $21.9 mllion set aside for grants to border law enforcement agencies over a two-year period. DPS has proposed cutting nearly half that amount. “This would reduce overtime to local law enforcement about 43%,” McCraw wrote. He added that Perry’s office planned to give local departments $16 million for border operations.
In any event, "stimulus" money shouldn't be spent on pure enforcement because the economic multiplier effect is so low. A deputy may have more money in his pocket for overtime, but everyone they arrest then costs the system money in areas that aren't federally subsidized - county jails, local court dockets, state prisons, etc.. And when the end result of an arrest is incarceration, it takes a consumer out of circulation instead of enhancing their contribution to the economy. That may at times be a worthwhile public safety goal, but it's the opposite of stimulating economic growth.
If stimulus grants are going to be spent on criminal justice projects, they should be focused on things that promote instead of deter economic growth. That includes programs that supervise offenders (read: consumers) outside of prison and preferably keep them gainfully employed. Job training and reentry services would also fit the bill.
Bottom line: "stimulus" money should go to programs that encourage offenders to reconnect with the economy - to remain in the community, supervised, earning and spending money, even paying taxes - instead of sitting in prison or jail living 100% on the taxpayers' dime. Otherwise, such grants can produce more costs than benefits for the economy.