Magazine article Insight on the News

Why Clinton Crime Bill Doesn't Pay

Magazine article Insight on the News

Why Clinton Crime Bill Doesn't Pay

Article excerpt

President Clinton has vowed to veto Republican attempts to rewrite last year's crime bill. Conservatives of both parties should welcome this challenge. Block grants will not only give states and communities more discretion about how to spend their money, as many have argued, they also could give local communities more for the money they spend.

Consider Spokane, Wash. With former House Speaker Tom Foley as its representative, Spokane long enjoyed the benefits of the congressional spoils system. Bike trails, libraries, money for the local Air Force base, agricultural studies - Spokane and eastern Washington got them all. During last fall's campaign, Foley claimed that the $2.5 million grant he had acquired for eastern Washington demonstrated the benefits of the Clinton crime bill. Upon inspection, however, it demonstrates no such thing. Instead, it shows in microcosm why the Clinton approach to crime doesn't pay, even for constituents of the most powerful members of Congress.

As Foley himself made clear, Spokane received more police from the crime bill than Seattle, San Francisco and other larger municipalities. Indeed, according to USA Today, Spokane received among the most officers of any city in the country. Even so, eastern Washington has not recouped, and is unlikely to recoup, what it will contribute to the $30 billion Clinton crime legislation, thus raising hard questions about why any community would look to Congress to hire its local police force.

Community cost-benefit analyses should not be based upon comparisons between various cities or states, all of whom might be overall losers, but between what a given city or state will contribute to the legislation and what it will likely receive. According to calculations made by economist Arthur Hall at the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, Foley's former district contributes about $2.24 billion to the federal budget each year. Its pro rata contribution toward last year's $30 billion crime bill will, therefore, come to about $45.5 million. Its contribution toward the smaller $8.8 billion portion of the bill devoted to policing comes to $13.4 million.

Using the lower $13.4 million figure and information about the number of officers funded (33 at about 62.5 percent of salary and benefits), it becomes possible to calculate the cost per officer per year. Assuming for the moment that eastern Washington has received all that it will receive from the crime bill, that cost comes to a whopping $229,000 per officer per taking into account ancillary costs and the district's total contribution to the crime bill yield figures as high as $930,000 per officer per year. Clearly, on this basis, eastern Washington would have done much better to hire its own police officers.

Of course, as Foley argued, eastern Washington may receive more funding for police in subsequent appropriations during the next five years. Yet the numbers still don't add up. …

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