Why, and To Whom, Cutting NYC Terror Funds Makes Sense

There is a chorus of incomprehension about the decision by the federal Department of Homeland Security to reduce security funding for New York City by 40 percent, and redistribute the savings to other less populated areas.  Some people cannot understand how it can make sense to take money away from a city that has been attacked several times and is the subject of ongoing threats and plots.  That is because such people believe that the purpose of homeland security funding is to ensure homeland security.

In reality, for elected officials the provision of public services and benefits is incidental to the actual purpose of the expenditure of public funds, if not an impediment to it.  The purpose of public spending is to reward narrow groups of political supporters with more money in exchange for less effort than any of those paying would have agreed to voluntarily.  Taxes are not voluntary.

New York City, you see, wanted to spend the money on police overtime.  That is, to increase the annual income and pensions of police officers residing in “blue state” New York.  The Department of Homeland Security, on the other hand, wanted the money to be forwarded on to security equipment and consulting contractors to provide an easy income elsewhere in the country.  Lobbyists for those contractors have swarmed to Washington D.C., pushing the office vacancy rate down to the lowest level in the country and liberally distributing funds.  Which approach would better secure the people of New York City?  Does it matter?

Remove the prejudice that the purpose of public expenditures is to provide public services and benefits in an evenhanded way, and many seemingly bizarre public policy priorities and conflicts make sense.

Should social services for the poor be provided by liberal non-profits or faith-based organizations?  Who in politics gives a rat’s ass about social services for the poor?  The question is should the “jobs” go to those who collect signatures and man phones for Republicans or Democrats?

Why was it more important to provide a Medicare prescription drug benefit for seniors, who already receive extensive government-funded health benefits, than to provide something for more in the working class, most of whom get nothing?  Well, money spent on expanded health coverage could go to anyone in the health care industry, whereas the drug plan is targeted to the drug companies.

New York’s school aid formula makes no sense based on the number of school children, their needs, and the local capacity to pay.  It makes perfect sense based on the number of people “working” in local school districts throughout the state.  They deserve those jobs, don’t they?  And how will the city’s children be helped if any additional city education funding will be used to allow existing teachers to retire at age 55, as the UFT agreed with Mayor Bloomberg in the most recent contract.  That’s irrelevant.  The Mayor agreed to less education for the city’s children in exchange for political neutrality in the election.

New York State's Medicaid program?  Need I say more?

Some people say I’m a naive fool because I believe that the purpose of public spending should be to provide public services and benefits in an evenhanded way.  But I’m less naïve than those who believe that is the purpose of public spending.  I unlearned that the hard way in 20 years of “public service.” Why do you think the term “political” is used to describe funds distributed without regard to any public policy goal?   Special deals for the special people is really all most of our politicians do, gradually chipping away at the actual benefits and services built up in more enlightened times.

So it won’t help to say New York City deserves more homeland security funding.  With an election coming, the party in power in Washington has to find some goodies to hand out.  To the insular, self-interested political class, with regard to that funding and much else, as Clint Eastwood said in “Unforgiven,” “deserve has got nothing to do with it.”