Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Newark, You Have a Problem

A buddy of mine just forwarded me this New York Times article about a 13% cut to the Newark Police Department recently announced by Mayor Cory Booker's Administration.

If you don't follow the link, I don't blame you. I don't have such a hot track record of following links I see in blogs or in forwarded e-mails, so I'll steer clear of hypocrisy land and just give you the Readers' Digest edition:

The city of Newark has an $83 million budget shortfall. Its mayor -- who happens to be one of the most phenomenal people in public service today on any level -- needs to address that. He met with the Fraternal Order of Police, tried to get some negotiations but, in NATO terminology, wound up with NO JOY. So his only option, even amidst rising crime rates after years of positive trends in the city, was to make layoffs.

Camden had it much worse, by the way. That far more bedraggled hamlet across from Philadelphia just cut half of its police force. Bear in mind, Camden consistently ranks as "America's Worst City" in statistical formulas that measure quality of life.

The worst part of all?

This is just the beginning. Because the union was unwilling to compromise with the city, all those jobless policemen and their families wind up in the loss column, as does the Mayor, and, way more importantly, all the law-abiding citizens of Newark. The Union can claim some sort of Pyrrhic victory, and you could *sort of* say the other 87% of police benefited, but the new conditions of the city might not even make that true.

All this reminds me why President Obama deserves across-the-board applause for the two-year freeze on federal wages.

And who should be the first people celebrating that decision? Federal employees, that's who.

No typo there, and I'll wrap this up with my point, which I used before in reference to Vallejo, CA and also to recent events here in Lowell. When public sector salaries and benefits are allowed to spin out of control due to cozy negotiations or ridiculous, runaway annual *bumps* in a non-inflationary environment, the eventual effect is that the house of cards will come tumbling down and public sector workers will be out of a job. With the public services they perform taken away, there are lots of losers in the equation. This is what SC Jim Leary was getting at last week -- if the teachers' union tells the city to pound sand rather than compromise, the current school budget will be the victim. The assistant librarians and the media specialists and the coaches and the paraprofessionals would directly suffer, as would the students, and just about anyone with any education could tell you how that would adversely affect the rest of the city.

I'm not a gambler, but I know this: If someone said I could either keep my current wage -- albeit frozen for five years -- or choose an alternative where my agency would face 40% cuts over that time, possibly in an arbitrary manner, I would be plum crazy not to take that first option. I would even take a 10% cut rather than option two.

But looking at some of the visceral outrage to the President's decree, I'm guessing that not every servant of Uncle Sam sees it quite the same.


kad barma said...

First thing I did when the financial s*** started hitting the fan years ago was invest in firearms training and licensing. There's a natural consequence to cutting back on police protection, and it's neither pretty, nor good for property values and related tax collection--nobody is winning here.

We're "lucky" here, I guess, (not at all--I'm being completely sarcastic) that the teachers' unions seem to be our first targets, but that only means that the consequences of our miserliness will be with us as long as this upcoming generation suffers from the detriment to their life of education, and that's a long, long time.

The real enemy isn't quite the Federal employees and their selfishness, though you're right to point out the nose-to-spite-face nature of their resistance. We have for decades allowed corruption and related spending on worthless boondoggles to drain our public treasury, and now we can't afford to protect ourselves, or properly education our children.

The fact that "stimulus" doesn't start with police, fire and schools is our greatest folly.

C R Krieger said...

I am not sure I quite agree with Kad that the stimulus should have started with the police, fire and teachers.  I thought the stimulus should have started with workers out in the private economy, brought in to do infrastructure work—the kind of fairly quick return work that will allow for rebuilding of our public capital investment.

But, the idea that civil servants should be getting high wages and high benefits, while the private sector does not, is wrong.  I was happy to hear Fred Bahou make that very point today on City Life.

The Camden thing is worse than Newark.  I remember when Camden meant jobs in ship building for US workers.  No more.

Regards  —  Cliff