Enough with the Chicken Little politics.
Like many cities around the nation, Cincinnati is grappling with a budget crisis triggered by a drop in tax revenues. To avoid a $28 million deficit this year and a possible $40 million deficit in 2010, the city manager is considering laying off some municipal workers, including 138 people in the Police Department.
The mere thought of police layoffs has caused some residents to go apoplectic, especially on the West Side. The Republican minority on City Council and the GOP’s long-shot mayoral candidate, meanwhile, are salivating over a wedge issue they can use to the party’s advantage.
As with the famous chicken in the old fable, all of these people have spent the better part of two weeks running around and yelling, “The sky is falling,” grabbing their fair share of headlines and TV time in the process. Did I mention it’s an election year?
It’s time to take a deep breath and look at the fine print about the proposed layoffs.
Despite all the fiery rhetoric and political grandstanding at a special City Council meeting Aug. 6 at the Duke Energy Center, residents might not notice much of a difference if City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. goes ahead with the police layoffs. That’s because, even with layoffs, the Police Department’s staffing level still would be within the range that Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. said was sufficient just a few years ago.
As a result, if the layoffs occur and City Council chooses not to stop them, the Police Department would be restored to its pre-2002 staffing.
Dohoney recently stirred controversy by proposing the 138 layoffs to save $2.6 million.
Here are the most important details about the layoffs: They wouldn’t affect the number of officers assigned to neighborhood patrols, nor would they change the number deployed per district, Dohoney said. Instead, civilian personnel and officers assigned to special units — like Vortex and Vice — would be impacted.
Last week’s special council meeting was called by Republicans Leslie Ghiz and Chris Monzel. It conveniently provided a forum for Republican mayoral candidate Brad Wenstrup to criticize the Democratic incumbent, Mark Mallory.
The police union previously rejected Dohoney’s proposal to use six-day unpaid furloughs to cut costs. Now Dohoney has stated that the layoffs can be avoided if the union agrees to other cuts and foregoes a 2 percent raise next year.
Negotiations are ongoing, but layoffs will begin Sept. 6 if no progress is made.
A look back at council history, however, shows it might have been election year politicking that got us into this mess in the first place.
Then-City Councilman John Cranley, a Democrat, proposed hiring 115 additional police officers in late 2001 to deal with a surge in violent crimes after rioting that spring and a police slowdown, as well as to improve Cincinnati’s image as a safe city.
During testimony before council at the time, Streicher said he hadn’t requested the extra cops and didn’t think the department needed them. During that period, the Police Department had a standard of having 1,000 officers, although the number fluctuated slightly from month to month due to retirements. That was OK, the chief said, because the department remained effective if staffing was within 15 people of the 1,000-member goal.
By comparison, the Police Department’s ranks grew to 1,037 officers by 2003 and now has 1,135 staffers. That number would drop to 997 if Dohoney’s layoffs occur — within the chief’s “safe range.”
It’s always sad when anyone loses their job, but — if the chief, city manager and others are to be believed — their loss won’t affect the safety of the average Cincinnati resident.
Now would be a good time to remember the moral of Chicken Little’s fable. When the chicken jumps to a conclusion and whips the populace into mass hysteria, an unscrupulous fox comes along and uses it to manipulate them for his own benefit, sometimes eating them as supper. How unsavory.
Back to the early 2000s: Despite Streicher’s testimony, City Council ultimately approved the hirings. Besides Cranley, other supporters were Republicans Pat DeWine, Phil Heimlich and Monzel. Opponents were Democrats Paul Booth, Minette Cooper and Alicia Reece and Charterite Jim Tarbell.
Although he initially opposed hiring the additional cops, then-Mayor Charlie Luken reversed his position and cast the swing vote — in an election year — to approve the measure. (At that time, the mayor also was a member of council and could cast votes.)
The additional officers would cost about $47.4 million during the next eight years, according to budget data presented at the time. Under the plan, 40 officers were added in 2002 and another 75 in 2003.
Once all of the new officers completed their training by 2004, the additional annual cost to the city was estimated at $5.2 million. With raises and other adjustments, that expense rose to $7 million by 2010.
During debate over the issue in October 2001, Reece said, “I just don’t understand how we can vote for something when we don’t know how we’re going to fund it.”
Prescient words, if ever any were spoken.
Canada can do it. Britain, France and Germany can all do it, too. Even communist China is planning on doing it soon. But the United States — more specifically, U.S. politicians — are too wimpy and greedy to follow suit.
The “it” is implementing a universal health care system to cover all of its citizens.
China recently announced that it will spend $123 billion by 2011 to establish universal medical coverage for the nation’s 1.3 billion people, according to the Associated Press.
Some economists say that providing universal health care will stimulate domestic spending during the current economic downturn, the AP reports. The Chinese have a high savings rate, partially because many people worry about possible medical expenses.
A Beijing economics professor conducted a study that concluded establishing universal health care with government-financed insurance would increase consumer spending.
Back at home, U.S. politicians can’t even agree whether to include a public option in proposed health care reform — an option that 71 percent of Americans support, polls say. Without the option, there’s little doubt that most of the 47 million Americans currently without health care coverage will remain that way.
So much for our reputation as the home of the brave.
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