Yesterday, right-wing radio host Glenn Beck told his millions of listeners that Philadelphia “sucks.” Beck also said the city was a killing field and it wasn't safe to walk around Independence Mall in the early evening. This prompted a scathing response from many Philadelphians, including Mayor Michael Nutter.
Normally, we wouldn't have anything to say about Beck's ridiculous comments. But, right before he started ripping into Philadelphia, Beck also showed his profound ignorance of basic government budgeting.
Speaking about the layoffs yesterday of Camden police officers and firefighters, Beck insinuated the decision to lay off public safety employees was a political move designed to build sympathy for the city.
“The first thing you do when you're in trouble is shut down schools and fire police officers,” said Beck. “Camden is only the second most violent place in the country. They want to be number one.”
Sorry Mr. Beck, but the reason that big city mayors are forced to lay off police officers and firefighters isn't some grand conspiracy. It's simple math. Most local tax dollars are spent on public safety. If you've got budget problems like Camden, the only option is to eliminate employees in a way that results in significant savings.
This is really obvious if you actually look at where Camden spends money in the city budget. According to the good government group CamConnect, the total revenue for the city in FY10 was $169 million. Of that number, about $61 million was spent on salaries in the Police Department and Fire Department.
Now, you could argue that Camden could have made bigger cuts in other $108 million. However, that would mean completely eliminating entire departments like Public Works, Finance, and Administration. These are essential for the day-to-day operation of city government. Simply put, there is a limit to how much you can cut in these areas without shutting everything down.
Now, maybe that's what Beck wants in the end. But, based on what he said on his radio program, it's clear he doesn't know the first thing about how city governments actually work.