"Over the last 10 years, public safety spending per person, in real terms, has gone up by nearly 50 percent since the year 2000," a 45% increase from $365 to $529. "Spending on everything else in the General Fund, has gone up by 2 percent since 2000," from a little over $175 to $178.The police union in Austin basically manipulates the Mayor and the majority of city council members like marionettes, which is why Austin has pitiful public transit, can't afford upkeep on parks, relies on criminal laws instead of housing and case management to deal with the homeless, reduced General Fund revenues for HIV treatment last year despite rising incidence rates, has never completed land purchases for the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, but has the highest paid police officers in the state and arguably (when compared to the cost of living) the nation.
"We've taken all the new money we've gotten from property taxes, sales taxes, and what have you, and put it all into public safety. And none of it into parks, libraries, health and human services, development services, and so on. It's all gone to public safety. That kind of big decision is not the sort of decision we ever have the chance to make on budget day. That sort of decision is basically made by the city manager and staff and department heads, way in advance of when we get to pass the budget. And that decision is so big, involving so many millions of dollars, that we simply don't have the opportunity to move that stuff around. So council and the public need to get involved in these big budget decisions well in advance of Sept. 13."
The Austin City Council included 48 new police officer positions in the 2010-11 budget, bringing the total to 1,669 sworn positions compared to 1,215 in the 2000-01 budget (source). That's an increase of 37.4% during a period when Austin's population increased by just 19.7%. Over the same period, crime nationwide has declined, but Austin keeps larding on more and more police officers at ridiculously high wages.
This one-sided irrational exuberance must cease. That means putting police salaries back into the budget process instead of negotiating them separately so that the biggest part of the budget is set in stone every year before it's even drafted. It also means remembering that police represent just one aspect of public safety, and that other programs and services may actually make us all a lot safer at a much lower cost. Finally, voters must begin to hold City Council accountable for ill-considered budget decisions at election time instead of rewarding perennially misplaced priorities.