Monday, March 30, 2009

Another part of Obama's stimulus the Governor should oppose?

We've seen tons of media and blog debate about Texas Governor Rick Perry's decision to reject nearly $600 million in unemployment money from the federal stimulus package, arguing it would obligate the state and employers to continue paying for additional benefits after the short-term stimulus money runs out.

But I've heard nary a peep from the Governor, and very little from anyone else, criticizing new law enforcement grants in Obama's stimulus package with essentially the same structure - a resuscitation of Bill Clinton's COPS program - that similarly require local governments to assume long-term obligations in order to receive short-term stimulus money.

The COPS program pays for new law enforcement positions for each of the first three years, but cities or counties accepting the grants must agree to pick up the tab after that. When Bill Clinton proposed this same plan back in the go-go '90s, many cities had booming budgets from escalating real-estate prices and were willing to bet that city revenue would increase enough in three years to cover new obligations.

In that context, the idea of hiring cops on the layaway plan - hire now, pay later - perhaps seemed more palatable than today. Once these officers are on the payroll for four years, it's politically next to impossible to reduce their number, even though federal rules only require employing them for one extra year beyond the grant.

In the current budget environment, I wonder if cities and counties will be as eager to apply for this particular federal handout given the long-term budgetary strings? My bet is that many cities and counties aren't nearly so optimistic as they were in the '90s that they'll be able to pay for those extra employees three years from now. After all, because of the training and support they need, police officers are among the most expensive employees on the municipal payroll.

Texas hasn't felt the impact of plunging real-estate prices as much as places like Florida or California, but especially local governments are not immune from declining revenue streams and may rightfully be wary of taking on significant budgetary obligations during a period when crime is declining overall and locals perceive no immediate crisis.

These thoughts occurred tome after seeing this news clip from El Paso which mentioned that the county commissioners court will be considering whether to hire new Sheriff's deputies on this new federal layaway plan. That brief mention made me realize such debates must be going on everywhere in the state and nation right now, as local governments must balance whether the public-safety benefits of accepting "free" officers in the short term makes sense for the long-term budgetary health of their community.

From the taxpayers' perspective, the same argument Rick Perry is making against accepting extra federal unemployment benefits applies in spades to the COPS program.

Maybe Governor Perry should have rejected that part of the stimulus money, too?


Anonymous said...

Here is the problem though. Crime IS declining, but you will not hear News, elected officials, nor some city cops state as much. It erodes their positions of influence. Continue to create more boogey men, when there are not any, or fail to mention that the reason you have more education programs is because there isn't as much actual crime happening, and the public will begin to wonder why your budget is so high.

Anonymous said...

This program could be viewed in the context of "I can have a cop for 4 years for the cost of 1 year". Not a bad deal!

Think of all the tickets they could give out to add the local revenue stream.

On the other hand, think of the cost of all the criminals they'll catch. There are prosecution cost and jail is not free to the locals. Of course TDCJ is paid from State funds so Perry might want to think of that. After thinking of it for a while, he'll probably come to the conculsion that he doesn't want to be considered "soft on crime" so he will do nothing.

Anonymous said...

Gosh Scott, don't you get it.

The President announced this morning that to help bolster consumer confidence during General Motors and Chryslers potential bankruptcies, he promised that the federal government will immediately begin backing their warrantees.

More cops on the street=more new patrol cars=more car sales=more taxpayer dollars for backing new car warranties.

See how it works? :)

JSN said...

I think the large departments must be the ones that want the COPS money. Last time we did this we did not replace officers that resigned or retired so it was not necessary to fire officers when the federal funding dried up.

What happen in our county was that after the COPS officers were hired there was an increase in misdemeanor arrests and no significant change in the number of felony arrests. After the COPs money dried up the misdemeanor arrests when back down to about the original rate.

IMHO we had too many misdemeanor arrests in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I'm just glad he turned down some of the so called stimulus package. I wouldn't want the crime money either, but not because I don't think crime is an issue. I don't think it will be effective and I wouldn't want to sell my soul to the President. He might end up firing me or making me his endentured servant.

Toronto Real Estate said...

Don't really see why the crime rate would go up these times and why is there a need for the COPS program. If you don't need more cops then don't get them. Of course that's pretty much saying we could create more jobs but don't want to but nobody knows if they will be able to pay back after those 4 years. The rejected stimulus money was not a bad choice either. It would only boost up the market for a little while and then it would be drowned again when the money runs out. Government projects and such creative things are necessary.

Take care, Julie

JTP said...

Well, just to fan the flames of discussion, consider the fact that many of the "baby boomer" cops are coming into their retirement zone. This is especially true for DPS, TABC, and Parks and Wildlife. Also, in the last 10 years we have seen that police have become sophisticated, and well equiped para-military organizations. This means that they can play a dual role in a national emergency, i.e. terrorist attack. IMO while crime is, in general down, there are pockets of high crime in many Texas cities and counties that could benefit from more police presence. Also, DPS Troopers are stretched very thin in many of the State's rural areas of Texas, especially now that they are doing double duty on the border. The biggest problem with the stimulus money is not being able to control how deep you can reach into well without falling in!

Anonymous said...

I say take the money, use te funds to train more people to be jailers and put the cops back out on the streets where they belong...BUT, In Harris County you have to be concerned about the jail staff that are not use to working on the streets and have gotten so used to the system of abuse in the Harris County jail that it just might bleed over into the daily lives of the ordinary citizens during routine traffice stops.

kaptinemo said...

You also have to consider another possibility for these grants: the specter of civil unrest.

Many years ago, an internationalist group calling itself the Club of Rome wrote a book called "The Limits of Growth", in which they predicted a future world that faced collapse of every facet of modern civilization, courtesy of failing to take into account resource limitations and world population increases.

They in essence predicted a kind of New Dark Age descending upon humanity following that collapse, with what amounts to a kind of modern feudalism developing to protect what scraps of living standards that may be left over.

Rightly or wrongly, that book was read by lots of the present political class, and I would daresay that they took its' lessons to heart.

As the economy gets worse, and it becomes obvious that government will not be able to provide much in tangible relief to the average citizen, we can expect social conditions to deteriorate nationally; just look at the formations of 'tent cities' and the record influx of people flocking to homeless shelters.

Obviously, there will be calls to maintain 'continuity of government', even if that government becomes increasingly less responsive to citizen needs.

The danger, of course, is what happens if the citizens feel there are no other options short of insurrection? Legitimate grievances unanswered may lead to peaceful assemblies turning violent. I believe that this is the real reason for a lot of the paramilitarization of police these past two decades under color of 'fighting drugs'; the realization that the fiscal house of cards created by deficit spending these almost 3 decades would inevitably collapse, and the civil strife that such a collapse would lead to was planned for well in advance. The movers-and-shakers of today read that book, long ago, and are ready, while Joe Sixpack certainly isn't.