State legislators recently introduced a bill that would penalize cities that moved to reallocate police funding to other public safety needs. The bill comes as a response to Asheville’s vote last year to cut its police budget from $30.1 million to $29.3 million. In particular, it would reduce state funding for cities which cut their police budgets by more than 1% of the city’s entire budget.
While that threshold would amount to a decent chunk of money, Raleigh’s police funding would only need to drop from $111 million to about $101 million, which is still slightly higher than the 2017-18 funding levels. Regardless of where the threshold is set, this sort of micromanaging of local budgets runs completely contrary to the point of having an autonomous local government: delegating local problems to people with more precise local knowledge of how best to handle them.
The General Assembly has a nasty habit of sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong, which is to say the internal affairs of local governments, typically Democratic-leaning cities. The most infamous law in our state’s recent history, HB2, was also a knee-jerk reaction to a city ordinance which, in that case, afforded greater protections for transgender folks. State government should not be a venue to score cheap political points by punishing cities for making their own choices. This sort of ineffective, partisan gamesmanship is exactly the thing a legislature dedicated to “unity” should be trying its best to avoid.
Municipal police forces are funded, unsurprisingly, by the cities and towns they protect. In the upcoming year, Raleigh will be spending about one-tenth of its budget on policing, and in an unstable economic environment, we should be able to decide where that kind of money will best serve public safety. Crime rates in the Triangle are below the national average, and while we certainly always wish crime were lower, it’s possible that other threats to public safety, like disease, might be more dangerous and easier to fix than crime.
Meanwhile, Charlotte’s crime rate is above the national average, which underscores why decisions about public safety are best left to a local government, rather than trying to enforce a one-size-fits-all approach from the state level.
Fortunately, the proposed bill is unlikely to pass since Republicans in the General Assembly lack the supermajority required to overturn a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper. But in the meantime, it allows its sponsors to pretend to fight off “radical extremists” and their “vicious attacks on enforcing our laws,” to use the words of the bill’s primary sponsor.
Portraying a democratically-elected city council trying to make sensible decisions about public safety in this negative light does nothing to reduce toxic partisan divisions that are all too clear in the era of the Capitol insurrection. And it certainly does nothing to protect North Carolinians who are entitled to govern their own communities as they see fit. No rational person votes for someone who seeks to do them harm, and if we can’t make an assumption that locals will vote in their own rational interests, then our national experiment in democracy has truly failed us.