Now that we’re done delivering our message to the government, “Keep your grubby hands out of our pockets,” it’s time to take account.
Most of us will save a few bucks on the soda, water and candy tax repeal. Wealthy people won’t be taxed on their income at the state level, nor will the prospect of a widening income tax (which many consider constitutionally illegal) haunt us. Oh, and now a minority of legislators control future disputes over new taxes.
But our increasing fervor against state taxation can have dramatically negative effects, two of which I viewed first hand during my police shift last week.
The first was an unresponse and delusional woman whom I soon learned was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic no longer taking her medications. This is a common issue for many mentally ill individuals, especially those without family or access to social services, and they can be dangerous to both themselves and others. In fact, other police officers had cited her for assault several days earlier following an altercation with an innocent stranger the deranged woman took to be a thief. The Department of Social and Health Services has a special division for this issue, but budget cuts have drastically reduced staffing.
Instead of getting a little help to stay on her medication, this poor woman became first a police problem and then an E.R. patient. These solutions fit her needs much like a round peg fits in a square hole.
Later in the week I was trying to get help from the Department of Corrections in order to track down a gang member wanted on numerous probation violations. This was a particularly violent career criminal currently under the supervision of the department’s Community Corrections Officers (CCO’s). When convicted felons like this one are loose in the community, state agencies like DOC are essential in monitoring their activities. But like all other state agencies, the recent cuts to the budget have created a large and sobering pink slip party at DOC.
The frustrating part of this example is that inevitably someone, maybe this particular individual, will commit a headlines-grabbing crime, and the inevitable rush of Monday morning quarterbacks will drown out the diminishing voice of a state criminal justice system on overload. It has happened before and it will happen again.
There is no questioning our financial reality. Money is tight, and services that could solve social problems–problems such as these– are costly.
Still, in our heady rush to punish politicians and save a buck, it’s important to keep an eye on who or what is slipping through the cracks.