Call Their Bluff

The District Attorney of Contra Costa County, California—one of the wealthiest regions in the United States, with a median household income of $86,709—has announced that his office will no longer prosecute assaults, thefts, burglaries, felony drug cases, shoplifting, trespassing, and a host of other crimes, due to budget cuts.

Needless to say, an uproar has followed this announcement, and I’ve no doubt the D.A. will succeed in obtaining a different solution to the “crisis” than the current budget cuts.

This of course is a classic case of threatening to close fire houses and libraries as the first response to every threat of a budget cut: behind-the-scenes, high-paid bureaucrats, or new, high-paid “green” jobs or departments are never targeted. Instead, services whose cuts will be immediately seen are held out for sacrifice, with the predicted result that already hurting taxpayers volunteer another pound of flesh to save the sacred cow.

The lack of any kind of serious scrutiny by the lapdog press ensures the success, time and again, of this blackmail. Nowhere do I see any mention of the huge amounts Contra Costa has lost in providing police, medical personnel and firefighters with highly favorable health and retirement benefits without proper actuarial examination, resulting in unbudgeted-for, high costs as personnel age and ultimately retire with continued first class health and retirement benefits.

The 2009-2010 Contra Costa budget is 9% below last year’s, yet still 10% above that of 5 years ago. Households and companies across the country are facing income declines that much and far greater; but none is reacting by cutting its core activities.

Contra Costa residents should stare down this attempted blackmail, take a chapter from our book, To Serve and Protect, relieve the county government of its monopoly on police protection and justice services, and keep their taxes. As the book’s author Bruce Benson points out:

Government police forces, prosecutors, courts, and prisons are all recent historical developments, results of a political and bureaucratic social experiment which neither protects the innocent nor dispenses justice.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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