Friday, October 26, 2007

Things along the way to the end of the race ...

I read about two freshman state legislators from this area that want to add 10,000 police in Pennsylvania. It reminded me of the Clinton administration, particularly because some commenter on a blog accused DeSantis of working for the Bush administration that had stopped the Clinton era federal block grants for police. As everyone should know by now, DeSantis worked for HW, not W.

But it reminded me about some thinking I have been doing about Bill Clinton recently. I almost never like current presidents while they are current. I tried to like HW (I was more conservative then), and he did several things I approved of, like trying to raise taxes to deal with the deficit, and Desert Storm. But he was sort of wimpy. I had a similar like/dislike sort of fing with Clinton. We knew he liked women a lot, and apparently wasn’t choosy (Paula Jones? Monica?). In a way, that’s sort of endearing (the not choosy part), but he makes Luke look like an underachiever in the dubious ethics department. Bill also milked his good fortune in having the internet boom occur during his presidency.

It’s the policies that came out of that spare money that I think about now. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. For example, the education credits that Clinton takes credit for, the hope and lifetime learning credits; the unintended consequences of those credits are still being felt. Basically the credits make it possible to spend up to two grand more on college. Since most people cover a lot of their expenses with loans, the two grand additional in a tax rebate (usually your student also qualifies for the child tax credit) comes in handy during those all important college spending years. And people wonder why college tuition has been going up faster than inflation. In fact, the fact that former trade schools (Triangle Tech, the Culinary Institute, the Art Institute) now qualify for both the education credits and all forms of financial aid (student loans) means that they have gone from a few hundred dollars to fifteen grand for an 18 month program.

Now, there should be no doubt that these changes are resulting in more people going to or going back to school. And eventually that should mean higher productivity and higher wages (without higher prices because of the higher productivity). But in the near term no one knows how they will afford school for themselves or their kids.

Now I told you that story to set this one up. Those two legislators reminded me of the Clinton spending on cops on the street. I guess Pittsburgh had a fairly large number of cops in the past, although it had more people then too. The thing was, the money for the cops was coming from outside the city, which meant it was supporting an artificial number of cops (for the amount of taxes people were willing to pay). Even now, now that the block grants are gone (to Iraq), people look back at the nineties and think and say, we don’t have enough police. And the Mayor hears them and wants to oblige. Will it bankrupt his budget? I want to revisit, for just a second, the deficits in his five year plan. The first is four years out, and is four million dollars. The second, as I recall, at five years, is 11 million. A very short upward trend. Could the third be twenty million? How long can the rainy day fund hold out?

Clinton had to know his block grants would have some problems in the future. I guess it is better in politics to spend what you can when you can, except not in this city at this time.

Meanwhile, speaking of spending (or the lack thereof), county council announced today that instead of a budget shortfall that could be taken care of with 200 layoffs, there is a budget shortfall equivalent to 800 layoffs. I had thought the county was ok, apparently I was wrong. Suddenly Mark DeSantis doesn’t seem for silly for fully embracing a city/county merger. The county now has maybe more to gain from pursing a more aggressive merger schedule. The timing of this new issue is funny too. Ravenstahl apparently was getting some traction in the merger issue. But if the well liked and respected Dan Onorato suddenly seems interested in some more service mergers, it may change a lot of minds.

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