ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight wrote this column appearing December 3, 2010 on The Washington Times website.
Government’s most essential function is to protect citizens. All other services are secondary.
Camden, N.J., is one of the most dangerous cities in the nation, according to FBI statistics analyzed by CQ Press. In fact, Camden was rated the “most dangerous city in America” in 2003, 2004 and 2008, just missing the top spot in 2009. (St. Louis edged it out).
Camden has neighborhoods that aren’t safe in broad daylight, much less at night.
So what did the city fathers of Camden do when faced with a $25.5 million budget deficit? They voted Thursday to lay off 200 police and firefighters along with 200 other city workers.
Council President Frank Moran suggested that citizens’ concerns about the soon-to-be-even-meaner streets be directed toward Trenton and fiscal conservative Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican.
“We didn’t put a price tag on public safety. Unfortunately, the governor of the state of New Jersey put that price tag on it,” he said at the meeting.
It’s the typical liberal gambit: Having loaded the public rolls with unionized government employees doing all sorts of nonessential things, the politicians go for the jugular to get the public’s attention.
Laying off police and firefighters guarantees that lives will be lost in Camden because of the council’s gamesmanship. But this kind of thing works. Hit the public where it hurts.
President Clinton used a similar tactic when facing down the Newt Gingrich-led Republican House during the federal shutdown in 1995. Of all the hundreds of thousands of federal workers, the White House decided to furlough the ones who run the national parks and museums, thus giving tourists a smack in the chops. It’s called the Washington Monument Game.
I recall going to the Smithsonian that week with out-of-town visitors, driving past acres and acres of enormous federal buildings full of tens of thousands of paper-pushing bureaucrats, only to find the castle locked and dark. Out at Yellowstone, I think they even locked up Yogi Bear and Boo Boo in order to disappoint picnickers.
It worked, of course. On the drive home, we all exclaimed, “Wow, we are so undertaxed! They had better raise our taxes right away so we can see the Wright Brothers’ plane and Archie Bunker’s chair again.”
Camden is a microcosm of liberal government’s manipulative ways. CBS News reported, “After the vote, council members and Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd avoided reporters by going into their offices.”
Of course they did. Why answer tough questions about why you would put public safety at risk to make a political point?
There is a solution to this kind of blackmail. The governor and Legislature should immediately pass a law prohibiting cities from laying off police, emergency medical and firefighting personnel until after everyone else in city government has been laid off – including the mayor’s staff.
In other words, the most essential public-service people should be the last fired instead of the first sacrificial lambs in politicians’ schemes to goose the public.
If this does not fly, perhaps they could pass a law requiring every household to have an adult who owns a gun and is trained to use it. It’s what the Swiss have been doing for years in their nearly crime-free mountain kingdom. That might mitigate the chaos in Camden when city fathers send the message to criminals that they’ll soon have better odds of holding up a 7-Eleven or planning a home invasion without those pesky police around.
One more thing. They should pass a law that bars firing any teachers until after all nonessential school personnel are laid off.
Watch the National Education Association’s New Jersey representatives scream and gnash their teeth and then ask yourself who really cares about the children.