Keep Your Eye on the (Budget) Ball

July 21, 2011 | By Liza Casabona | Post a Comment

As talks over the debt ceiling drag on (despite President Obama’s stated deadline tomorrow and the Treasury Department’s hard deadline two weeks out), it’s important not to lose sight of the unfinished fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills. Many of them contain proposals that would have significant impacts on local and state governments, agencies and organizations, regardless of how the debt debate plays out.

Take, for example, the House’s FY 2012 Commerce-Justice and Science appropriations bill. In its present form, which the House advanced last Wednesday, the proposal would eliminate funding for some critical local police services.  (The committee’s markup of the bill from last week can be viewed here.)

The current bill does not include funding for either the Community Oriented Policing Services program, a popular source of funding for states and local governments to support local law enforcement, or the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which funds the cost of incarcerating undocumented immigrants who are arrested for crimes.

According to news reports, legislators on the House committee overseeing the bill have indicated that funding could be restored but have given no indications of how they expect that to get done. Other programs that will lose funding if the current measure advances include the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, the Second Chance Act and Juvenile Justice Grants.

The National League of Cities’ Mitchel Herckis wrote a column earlier this week with a reminder of how important the COPS program and other local justice and law enforcement efforts are for communities.

“Funding for the COPS Office is increasingly important as cities and towns struggle to keep police on the street during these tough fiscal times. Over the last three years, the COPS Office has gotten requests to save almost 8,000 jobs that were recently or about to be lost. The percentage of agencies asking for grants that have reported experiencing sworn layoffs in the past year has more than doubled from 5.65 percent to 11.6 percent, and the percentage of agencies that have reported experiencing sworn officer hiring freezes in the last year jumped from 26 percent to 43 percent,” he said.

Amid the blaring headlines over the debt ceiling, it could be easy to forget that once the dust settles on that (albeit very important) chapter of fiscal negotiations, Congress will still have to hash out the details of discretionary spending levels for FY 2012, and a deadline for that follows quickly on the heels of the debt limit fight. Even after the debt ceiling issue is finally resolved, the danger won’t be over for those who rely heavily on federal funding to support critical activities in their communities.

State and local government readers, how would cuts to COPS and other justice-related programs impact your community?



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