Federalism Works! Don’t let Washington take a cut of local police funding


From the Monday edition of the New York Daily News comes a shocking editorial revealing that Congress is so dysfunctional and hell-bent on cutting spending that it has even slashed a program that pays for bulletproof vests for police officers.

In 2010, the feds helped buy 193,259 vests nationwide at a cost of $37 million. This year, the number is just 51,910 — because funding fell to $19 million and the Justice Department now covers only one-third of a vest’s price instead of half.

But wait. Why is the federal government subsidizing local police forces?

The answer is pretty simple: the federal government subsidizes everything. It’s particularly fond of subsidizing state and local government services. In 2011, Washington paid for just under 25% [PDF] of all state and local expenses. So technically the 1/3 bulletproof vest funding is still relatively large compared to the 1/4 funding of all other local services.

Instead of getting outraged when a federal program that pays for a local program gets reduced, we should eliminate that federal support completely and let local and state governments pay for their own services. The reduction in federal spending would have to come with a cut to income taxes that that the subsequent rise in local and state spending would be offset by new local and state taxes as necessary (or as we’ll see next, better spending priorities).

More specifically, why did we need to buy almost 200,000 new vests every year? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 there were 780,000 police officers and detectives across the country. Almost 1/3 of them need new vests every year? Why?

The Bulletproof Vest Partnership at DOJ was created by a 1998 law and began awarding grants to local and state governments to fund their vest purchases in 1999. That first year it awarded $2.7 million, which purchased 17,933 vests ($154 each).

Had Congress been “betraying the cops,” as the NYDN slanders, from 1789 to 1998, before the program and funding existed? Is Congress “betraying” the 580,000 cops that the program wasn’t covering every year, even at its peak? Is the DOJ itself “betraying the cops” for not requesting enough funding to cover every cop every year rather than just the 200,000 or so it did a few years ago? Or did the BVP effectively create a new entitlement that unless fulfilled at or above the previous level provokes such a childish emotional response?

That’s exactly the trap with federal programs. We’re not allowed to analyze their scope and funding for necessity and priorities, weigh them against the towering national debt, or cut even a penny from their budgets, especially the ones that support an easily demagogued target like first responders, women, children, or holiest of holies, the military.

Cops should have bulletproof vests to use in sensitive situations (but not military planes and grenade launchers). We’re not “betraying” them if we think the feds shouldn’t subsidize them at an ever-increasing level each year regardless of deficits or necessity.

Editor’s Note: For every dollar that passes through Congress, that’s less money that actually goes to necessary services. Keeping those tax dollars local means they will be spent more wisely. And who knows better how to spend your money on local law enforcement? Your county mayor or your Congressman?

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