Help State Legislators Sort Out What’S Essential



It cost Arizona $143,000 per year for each juvenile held in a detention center. At a meeting I recently attended it was pointed out that the state of Washington had adopted the following approach to that problem.

They added up all the revenue they were reasonably sure of receiving in the coming year.

They listed the responsibilities of the state in descending order of necessity. They prioritized the state’s responsibilities.

They assigned realistic costs to each function and went down the list until they ran out of money.

They said that is the budget. That is all we are going to do.

As I thought over the meeting I realized the Washington approach was what Arizona’s state government was getting at, in not quite so organized a fashion. The Legislature is rightly saying there will be no new taxes. They are reducing funds to various state departments, who are then doing the prioritizing, ergo, the closed rest stops and state parks. I don’t think there is any serious feeling that these are essential functions, in any way. Now many of you may feel that there are other functions that the state is still performing that are less essential than rest stops and state parks, if so, let your elected officials in both the Legislature, and other functions, know your thinking. Help both the Legislature and the administration to properly prioritize.

Now, back to the first fact in this letter, concerning the exorbitant cost of juvenile detention. There is no doubt that detention of dangerous criminals is a prime function of government. So is determining which criminals are truly dangerous. I have developed some comparative incarceration rates, and costs, for the various states, and Arizona is at the high end of everything. Therefore, we should be urging our elected officials to be taking a completely new and objective look at our whole criminal justice system, to be sure.

That we only have the people who are really a danger to us in jail, in the first place.

That wherever possible, prison be used as a place of retaining rather than retribution.

As rapidly as possible get non-dangerous prisoners on parole. It costs 10 times as much to keep someone in jail as on parole.

That good, effective, incentive plans be developed for parole and probation workers, so that if they do a good job of sorting out the good guys from the bad guys, and have each in the proper location, they are handsomely rewarded, financially.

Now, back to the $143,000 per year juvenile detention cost. That seems to me to be a good place to start sorting out the problem children from the really bad ones. To sum all this up, no one is being well served by citizens, or editors, grumbling and whining about why don’t those legislators down in Phoenix get to work, stop the gridlock, and develop a budget? Generally these are code words for “why don’t they raise someone else’s taxes and get enough money to continue business as usual?” I happen to believe that they are doing exactly the right thing. They know that the state, even with its depressed revenue, has enough money to do the things that need to be done, if done correctly. The Legislature believes that if they leave your money with you, you will spend it more wisely than the state, if your money is transferred there by taxes. I think most of you feel the same way. So help our state officials sort out what you feel is unessential, and what we can do without. Also point out, what appears to you, to be gross inefficiencies in the operations that are essential. Finally, give the Legislature the time to do it right. Back to the essentiality of state parks. If a certain park is essential to the economy of an area then let the area run the parks for their own benefit, as Payson has proposed.

Dan Adams


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