Monday, September 11, 2006

Thinking Big About Blue

A major state politican recommends spending $225 million a year in state money to enable local governments across Pennsylvania to hire up to 10,000 police over the next five years.
Guess who?
No, not that notorious big spender Ed Rendel. It is state Rep. John Perzel, the Republican House speaker.
Perzel floated the idea Sunday in a sit-down with my colleague Mario Cattabiani.
Perzel's idea seemed to take his Republican colleagues aback. And no wonder. They are the party that is supposed to oppose costly new programs, not propose them.
The idea is not without strings. Perzel wants the state to pick up half the cost of new officers and have local governments pick up the rest. And, as he articulated it, the program is not designed to subsidize officers already on the payroll, but only for expansion of departments.

Still, the Perzel proposal is an example of big thinking. The state and federal government give nearly zero for local law enforcement, which places a burden on communities small and large. Some of the smallest have had to abandon having local police. Some of the largest had attritted down in recent years.
Let me use Philly as an example. Nearly 45 cents out of every dollar spent by the city of Philadelphia is on public safety -- by that I mean the police, the courts, the DA's office, probation and parole, the prisons, the sheriff's office and the public defenders. (I am using 2005 figures here) Six out of 10 city employees are involved in public safety. The largest, obviously, is the police department. The city has about 6,400+ uniformed officers.
Perzel said his proposal would let Philly put another 1,300 police on the streets over the next few years. Horray for that, but it would cost the city a big chunk of change. It costs about $80,000 to add one police officer to the Philly force -- including base salary, OT and fringe benefits. To add 1,300, as proposed by the House Speaker, would cost the city $100 million a year more in city money, on top of the $100 million in state aid. (see below for correction.)

Posted Tuesday, Sept. 12: I made a mistake in the above calculations and overstated the costs to the city. The Perzel plan would have the state pay 50% of the cost of the salary of a new officer, which the plan places at $45,000 a year (using the statewide average). That means the state will pay a max of $22,500 per officer. The Perzel plan does not directly subsidize fringe benefits. However, Al Bowman, a spokesman for Perzel said the plan is designed for maximum flexibility. For instance, in Philly, where it costs $80,000 a year in salary, fringes and OT to put a rookie officer in the street, the city could choose simply to hire fewer officers. Under the plan, the max the state would give to Philly is $32 million. If Philly added another $32 million to the pot, it could afford to hire 775 new officers -- not the 1,300 Perzel mentioned, but still a substantial number. Ditto for other counties and localities.

Posted Wednesday, Sept. 13: Gov. Rendell says he is against the Perzel plan because it is too expensive. Perzel's office says it is puzzled by the governor's reaction. So now we have a Republican proposing a New Deal-like plan, and a big spending Democrat against it.

7 Comments:

Blogger AJ Lynch said...

Reduce the size of the legislator from 250 to 100. That would cut 150 seats and if each has an annual budget of $250,000 per year, I just found you $37.5 Million.

That's how it could be done. It's not that hard.

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, that proposal has no legs and goes against whata Commonwealth is designed to do. If there is one person that can accomplish such a task, it is John Perzel.

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, great idea. Too bad it takes the spectre of an election where Republicans are poised to get creamed for Perzel to come up with it.

And sadly, you can rest assured, it will vanish like the morning dew once polls close on Nov. 7.

Tell you what -- let's wait until Nov. 8, then we'll talk about it. Let's see how really serious he is then.

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the proposal. Philadelphia needs more police and it needs a market rate property tax system in place as well. Also, last time I checked city budget had a surplus of $200m+, the problem is that doesn't account for the 58% funded pension plan that has blown up under Street. Street should have been CEO of Enron.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The city would not have to come up with $100 million as Mr. Ferrick claims. It is true that 1,300 would equal approximately $100 million but he forgets that the state is providing the funding. In actuality, the city would likely have to pony up around $30 million. And, as the City Controller has said they should be able to afford that with a $202 million surplus.

8:57 AM  
Blogger ACM said...

uh, AJ, you seem to have saved the *state* $37, while it's the *city* that needs to find that amount.

(even before we assess your idea on the merits..)

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad the Speaker can't use his political muscle to do something about the gun problem plaguing the city. I live in his district, and recently I've been getting one or two pieces of mail a day telling me how wonderful he is. He's wasting his money, though, because I'm not voting for him.

10:33 PM  

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