Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dick Tracy Calling Go Go Gomez

The High Cost Of That Tw0-Way Wrist Radio

Time was, all a good cop needed was a badge, a nightstick, and a paddy wagon to cart off the criminals. How much could that cost?

Today, in Nassau County, at least, we pay the hefty sum of $161,119,742.66 for our County police, and another $130,759,490.34 for "County Police Headquarters."

True, most of us still pay more for garbage collection than we do for police headquarters [in Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 6, for instance, residents pay $732.62 annually, versus $608.15 for County Police Headquarters], but still, what in tarnation could be going on down at headquarters to cost the taxpayer nearly 131 million dollars -- IN ADDITION to the more than $161 million we shell out each year to maintain a police presence in the County?

We posed that very question to the Information Office of the Nassau County Police Department, as well as to the Nassau County Comptroller's office. As of post time, no response had been recieved by The Community Alliance.

Well, it would seem, to this observer of community, that we're paying an awful lot to maintain a roof overhead.

Considering that Inspector Henderson of Superman fame kept all of his worldly belongings in a single box -- including his beloved percolator -- we think the taxpayer doth dole out too much for HQ here in Nassau.

Not to mix either metaphors or the fighters of evil-doers, wherever they may try to root out the bad guys, but, golly gee, where's Joe Jitsu and Hemlock Holmes when you really need them?

$161 mil for police protection? Maybe. $131 million for Headquarters? We think not!

Why, its enough to turn every taxpayer into a Pruneface.

From The Peanut Gallery (A reader responds):

Greetings -

I’m sure some kind of explanation could be provided for this outlandish expense, but it wouldn’t change the self-evident fact that this is an irresponsibly high number, especially given the current economic climate in Nassau County. The generic issue of how much taxpayers pay for municipal services has its roots in a number of problems, but I think the biggest one has to do with the degree to which our political leaders are influenced by various public employee unions.

You see this at all levels of government and with various labor constituencies: from teachers exerting influence in Albany, to the police in Nassau County, to municipal workers in the Town of Hempstead, to any number of other situations of a similar nature.

Some of this influence is for the good. But I do think there’s a problem when public employee unions engage in a high degree of political activism. Unions are very effective organizations when it comes to mobilizing support for political candidates, whether that takes the form of representing a disciplined voting block that can make or break a particular candidacy, or providing grass-roots organizational help, or simply donating money. The net result of their political strength is a clear interest among public officials in currying favor among municipal unions and otherwise doing anything they can to avoid their enmity.

Right about now, given the very difficult economic times we are in, there should be some equally difficult conversations going on between our governmental leaders and labor concerning the increasingly untenable salary and benefit costs that are commonplace in the public sector.

Anybody who works for a private employer knows full well what they’ve experienced in the last five years in terms of lost job security, increased cost of health benefits, pension plans that have gone away and other concessions they have had to make. An analogous process, on a comparable scale, has definitely not been seen in the public sector. While there have been some modest labor concessions, they have definitely not been commensurate with the degree to which government really needs to pull in its belt.

I don’t think unions are bad things, but there is a built-in conflict of interest relating to the fact that unions are such powerful political players. Imagine, if you will, a situation in which some company’s union could influence or even decide whether or not that company’s CEO kept his or her job. No board of directors, representing the interests of shareholders, would be comfortable with that kind of situation.

A CEO’s job should be to maximize profit, which is not necessarily going to be compatible with what a union might want. Unions might want higher salaries or better benefits, but that’s only going to mean less profit for shareholders. Any reasonably sophisticated investor would think it was crazy to put money into a company in which labor controlled management.

Despite this, we allow this same kind of conflict of interest to persist within government. Unlike investors, we don’t have a choice: we have to pay taxes. But we do have the choice to hold our elected officials accountable, just as shareholders can hold management accountable.

My personal opinion - and this probably where I get to earn my own enmity – is that public sector unions should be apolitical in every regard – which is to say that they should be not allowed to engage in lobbying activities, or to endorse and/or work for specific candidates.

Similarly, I don’t believe that it’s healthy for union leadership to advocate for particular candidates or to try to influence their memberships’ votes. The point is that without making some kind of change in the way public sector unions operate relative to state and local governments, you’ll continue to see the type of irresponsible cost management that would get any CEO fired. As voters, we too have the option to fire the elected officials responsible for this kind of outrage, and that’s exactly what we ought to be doing when they stand for re-election.

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