Monday, November 28, 2016

Trumpocalpyse 5: I want a new drug.

Donald Trump's plan to help fight drug addiction and drug-related problems in the US is primarily to stop drugs from coming into the country. This will be tough to do given his plan to reduce the federal budget by at least 1% each year, leaving entitlements untouched in those cuts.

The current 2017 drug plan calls for $31,100,000,000 to be spent 'fighting drugs,' a generalized statement that encompasses a lot of different approaches. This amount is an increase of 1.7% from the 2016 allocation. Just over 10% -- $4,100,000,000 -- is allocated to interdiction, which is the fancy word for "stopping people from bringing drugs into the country."  Another $1,600,000,000 is planned to use specifically in foreign interventions such as targeting cartels or supporting crops other than drugs.

The General Accounting Office, a nonpartisan government agency, estimated in 1983 that less than 10% of dangerous drugs were seized through interdiction, and recommended changes, many of which were implemented. 10 years later, the GAO found that most drug seizures, rather than being the result of a coordinated effort, were simply made based on random or routine searches.

One growing effort to stop drug abuse-related problems are "drug courts," courts designed to help curb recidivism and provide a framework for drug addicts to get back into society. These have been around since 1993, and while not perfect, have generally reduced recidivism and are less costly than enforcement-and-imprisonment.

Recently, in Wisconsin, two rural counties were given by the federal government a $325,000 grant to jointly administer a drug-court program. Providing federal incentives to drug courts is something Trump promised to do as a candidate, although he didn't say how he would get the money.  The counties in question were Iowa (which went for Hillary by a large margin) and Grant (which narrowly went to Trump.)

Just to keep track: Trump has promised to reduce the federal budget by 1% each year from its current state. He has also promised not to touch entitlements. And he has promised to provide federal money to state and local governments to help establish drug courts.    This creates a series of problems.

The first problem has already been said: Trump cannot continue to increase spending on his projects while also cutting the federal budget by 1% each year. (That promise alone is disingenuous, because federal spending is so ingrained into American life that cutting back in any serious way represents a major shift in governmental policy that likely cannot be accomplished in 1, or even 2, terms.  Much of the increase in federal spending has come under Republican presidents. George W Bush, our worst president [so far] spent more than any of his predecessors in office, increasing the federal budget by fifty-three percent in just 8 years.)

The second problem is that these are not permanent funding sources. When the federal funding is cut off, then either the drug courts stop -- losing the benefit of these programs, which are long-term programs -- or the counties and state must make up the difference.  County spending comes largely from property taxes in Wisconsin. Property taxes are a somewhat-regressive tax that hit poor and middle-class people harder.  State money comes from a variety of taxes such as gasoline tax and income tax, and again these are regressive.

75.6% of housing in Iowa County is owner-occupied; the median property tax bill is $525 for such houses in that county. There are 10,000 or so housing units. If you cut off federal funding of the drug court, Iowa County must come up with $162,500 to run the court, spreading that cost among the 10000 homeowners in the county.  Either that means that Iowa County cuts $162,500 worth of services from something else, or taxes go up, funding drug courts regressively by taking money from the poorest people disproportionately.

When federal spending gets cut, states generally cut programs that relied on federal spending. 31 states cut health care services between 2009 and 2011, among other drastic slashing of social services. This is because it is not popular to raise taxes to keep services going, and the recipients of the services are often the least-represented, politically. Nobody wants to tax the middle-class more; but nobody cares if we cut funding for drug-addicted criminals.

Drug courts, the evidence says, work. Interdiction, the evidence says, does not. Under Trump, we can expect the specifics of his plans to increase interdiction to be met, because that says "tough on crime," and "tough on foreigners," too. We can expect the mealy-mouthed promise to fund drug courts in a nonspecific way to be dropped by the wayside, which means that three years from now, the 40% of people who voted for Trump in Iowa County and the 51% of people who voted for him in Grant County will see a small headline in the local paper that says the drug court programs are ending for lack of funding.  I doubt they will mourn the passing of those programs, but they should: if you are fiscally conservative, drug courts make sense. Every $1 spent on drug court saves $2.17 on other aspects of crime prevention and incarceration.

But "fiscally conservative" takes a back seat to "tough on crime," every time.

1 comment:

Andrew Leon said...

The Republicans think the answer to anything that they're against is "beat it to death." The whole do it more and harder thing. So, yes, beat drug dealers and drug users into submission.

Personally, I think we ought to try legalizing most drugs, then taxing them. But that's a whole separate discussion.

I'll have a response up to your comment on my post as soon as I have a chance to sit down and write it.