‘Ultimate Impact’ of Government Union Bosses’ Decisions Is to ‘Limit’ Chicago’s ‘Fiscal Capacity in the Face of a Serious Crime Problem’

Recently, President Obama returned to his adopted hometown of Chicago to speak on the South Side at a Hyde Park high school.  In his remarks, Obama bemoaned the city’s rampant gun violence.  In 2012, the President noted, “there were 443 murders with a firearm on the streets of this city, and 65 of those victims were 18 and under. . . . [T]hat’s the equivalent of a Newtown every four months.”  Another 18-year-old was shot and killed in Chicago a few hours after the speech.

In the commentary linked below, National Review’s Reihan Salam considers what might be done to stem the tide of violence in Chicago.  He points to research suggesting that “one of the most reliable ways to reduce violent crime is to increase the number of police officers in the city.”  Unfortunately, as Salam goes on to note, public-safety and other government union officials who are armed with monopoly-bargaining power under Illinois law steadfastly resist reforms that would make it possible to put many more cops on the street without imposing additional economy-crippling tax hikes or slashing other necessary government services.

Revoking the monopoly-bargaining privileges Illinois legislators have granted government union bosses so that public officials can deploy the resources they have to combat criminal violence effectively won’t be easy.  But, as Salam vividly shows, the status quo is unacceptable:

Increasing the number of police patrolling Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods is not the kind of thing that can happen overnight. Much would have to be done — from reforming the work rules that govern policing to redeploying personnel from police functions that are less urgent to those that are more so to recruiting new officers into the pipeline who won’t be deployed for some time. Some of this work, e.g., reforming work rules, relying on civilians to take on functions currently handled by police officers who might otherwise be deployed in the fields, etc., might actually save money. But others will cost money that will have to come from some mix of local, state, and federal taxpayers. 

My basic take is that when Chicago needs more public resources, it should focus first on growing the city’s economic pie (relaxing zoning restrictions, easing burdens on small firms, well-targeted infrastructure investments, etc.), second on increasing the efficiency of existing public agencies, and only then on raising taxes. One clear indication that Chicago hasn’t made much progress on this second front is that most public employees would prefer a modest increase in current wages over a substantial increase in pension benefits, yet Chicago and cities like it across the country have taken the opposite tack, presumably because it is cheaper for politicians to make promises that will come due on someone else’s watch. Moreover, local public employee unions have fiercely resisted pension reform measures, as well as reforms of work rules that would generate substantial cost savings. The ultimate impact of these decisions is to limit the city’s fiscal capacity in the face of a serious crime problem.

Trade-offs and the Chicago Crime Wave