Tag Archives: priorities

And How About That Budget?

Once upon a time, when self-righteous folks made speeches about their deep levels of concern about this or that issue, skeptical listeners would respond by telling the speaker to “put your money where your mouth is.” That rejoinder reflected a widely-held recognition that talk is cheap—that a person’s real priorities could only be determined by examining the level at which one “walked the walk,” including where a person put his or her money.

There are many differences between government budgets and personal ones, but there is also one undeniable similarity: you can determine governments’ priorities by following the money, by seeing what measures and programs public officials want to fund—or defund.

For example, the GOP’s persistent efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are entirely consistent with its belief that male dominance should take priority over women’s health.

Donald Trump has sent his preferred budget to Congress, which will have the last word on expenditures, and we can be sure that the budget that emerges (assuming one does) will differ significantly from its current form. That said, there is significant Republican support for the President’s priorities in this Congress, and those priorities should appall anyone who actually cares about poor or middle-class Americans–or the future of the planet.

The President is advocating enormous increases for America’s already bloated defense budget, at the expense of widely valued programs like the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Legal Services, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, among many others.

The Corporation for National and Community Service promotes volunteerism in distressed communities, and provides college stipends for those who serve those communities. Legal Services—already inadequately funded—provides critically important legal assistance to people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer to fight predatory lenders and slum landlords, get divorced, or access Medicaid and Medicare, food stamps and other benefits to which they are entitled.

Much sarcasm is generated by the periodic efforts to “save Big Bird,” but public broadcasting and the Endowments for the Arts and Humanities bring unbiased news, cultural events and civic conversations to citizens who would not otherwise have the opportunity to explore those perspectives.

It’s hard to look at this budget without seeing a deliberate effort to kick people when they’re already down,an effort to further impoverish the people who are most disadvantaged by depriving them of everything from legal assistance, to heat in the winter, to educational entertainment.

Trump’s proposed budget also cuts funding to the Environmental Protection Agency by nearly a third; and eliminates support for climate change research as “a waste of taxpayer money.”

It is difficult to understand this Administration’s wholesale rejection of science and climate change as anything other than a cynical subsidy to the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies. The environmental dangers of this assault have been widely discussed, but its cynical subtext has not: the effects of environmental degradation will fall first—and hardest–on poor Americans.

Flint, Michigan is hardly the only disadvantaged community with contaminated water.

Nor would polluted water be the only likely result of the savage cuts to EPA programs: there is likely to be a return of the smog and poor air quality that once characterized our urban areas, and fewer efforts to eliminate lead in the soil and house paint in older, more deteriorated neighborhoods.

This budget rewards the privileged with tax credits while waging war on the people least well-equipped to fight. It is an exercise in cruelty, not to mention stupidity—a short-term political map to long-term disaster.

Following the money in this budget leads directly to dystopia.

 

 

 

 

Mayor Ballard’s Very Strange, Utterly Misplaced Priorities

Anyone who lives in Indianapolis and reads or listens to the news knows that Mayor Ballard recently vetoed a bipartisan measure passed by the City-County Council that would have increased the size of the police recruit class. He says we can’t afford it.

The news also confirms that Ballard is hell-bent on spending $6 million dollars to build a Cricket field.

A friend recently sent me the following clip from a news story, in which Ballard defended his priorities.

During an interview last week, Ballard grew impassioned when asked about the decision-making behind the nearly 50-acre sports complex and the shaky history of the United States of America Cricket Association. (It has new leadership after struggling to put on cricket tournaments in recent years.) He called local reaction to the plans “very upsetting.” “We have basketball courts, swimming pools, tennis courts, baseball fields — we have all these other sports — and these guys have nowhere to play rugby, hurling, lacrosse, Australian-rules football, cricket,” Ballard said. “Why are they not allowed to have their fields, too? … I think, as a mayor, that’s a good thing to be doing.”

Let’s deconstruct this. (I will try to do so without hurling.)

Because our parks have swimming pools and basketball courts, we have an obligation to offer cricket and lacrosse fields? Why not dodgeball (which actually has more fans than cricket, at least judging from Facebook likes)? How about people who compete in hammer-throw tournaments? Curling? Surely Ballard is not suggesting that this is some sort of equal protection issue–that taxpayers have an obligation to meet the sports needs of aficionados of even the least popular sports?

And I’m still debating the propriety of government providing golf courses…

If there is one thing on which virtually all Americans agree, it is that providing public safety is a government obligation. (That may be the only thing Americans all agree on.) Police may not be as exciting as cricket (actually, they are; I’ve seen cricket), but providing adequate police protection is–along with ensuring that we can flush–an absolutely basic government function.

So, as Ed Koch might have asked, how are we doing?

According to the Mayor’s own task force, the Indianapolis police force is short 685 uniformed officers. The national average is 2.5 officers per 1000 residents; the current IMPD ratio is 1.7 officers per 1000.

The murder rate in New York City is 3.4 per 100,000. The murder rate in Indianapolis is 17.5 per 100,000.

The City is shifting IMPD assignments in a desperate effort to put more cops on the street without actually adding personnel, but given our current staffing levels, that’s equivalent to rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. The Mayor’s own task force reported that there is no alternative to hiring more officers–redeploying may help at the margins, but there is no alternative to hiring more police.

Now, I’m not unsympathetic to the fiscal problems created by Mitch Daniels’ tax caps. (Caps that Ballard supported, unbelievable as that is.) Constitutionalizing those caps was brilliant politics, and terrible government. The caps starve units of local government of badly needed resources, requiring not only creative fiscal management (we are running out of public assets to sell off), but also those “hard decisions” that politicians talk about endlessly but rarely if ever actually make.

The Council’s proposal would have paid for the recruiting class only for the first year; the City would have to come up with the money to pay for the additional officers going forward. That would require hard trade-offs–at a minimum, fewer subsidies to local sports franchises, fewer cushy deals for developer friends of the Mayor. It might also require the Mayor to actually appear at the legislature–something he’s been loathe to do, especially if such appearances would interfere with one of his frequent “economic development” junkets–and petition our state-level rulers to get rid of the 40 plus “funds” that currently prevent Indianapolis from setting its own priorities.

The problem is, unless the citizens of Indianapolis feel safe, we can’t accomplish any of our other goals. We can’t revitalize neighborhoods. Economic development efforts will go nowhere. The bike lanes, the Monon Trail and the justifiably lauded Cultural Trail will empty. Downtown businesses will suffer. There will be a downward spiral that will make all other efforts immeasurably more difficult.

We have a real public safety crisis in Indianapolis right now–a public safety crisis that could undo the years of progress we have enjoyed.

And instead of focusing on that crisis and working with the legislature to address it, we have an utterly clueless Mayor who is spending what little political capital he has on a cricket field.