Real Clear Policy: #WasteOfTheDay Week 82 109_wotd_wk_82

September 9, 2022 12:50 PM



NYC Jail Staff Throws Lavish Bash While Jails Get Worse

September 5, 2022


While New York City had to pay $200,000 in fines because its Correction Department hasn’t gotten thousands of prisoners to medical appointments, the department recently threw a lavish retirement party at the notoriously embattled Rikers Island jail complex.

So far this year, 11 detainees have died in custody and a judge recently ordered the city to pay the large fine in a class action lawsuit after Correction Department officials didn’t “substantially comply” with a judge’s order to get prisoners to doctors appointment.

But on-duty Correction Department workers helped set up and hundreds of on-duty staff in uniform attended Chief Ada Pressley’s July retirement bash under a large white tent in a parking lot between two of the jails on Rikers Island, The New York Daily News reported.

At the party were hundreds of balloons, chairs, and tables. The party featured white cloth, formal dinnerware, a catered spread, candy bars, water bottles, and T-shirts emblazoned with Pressley’s image, the newspaper reported.

Pressley wore a white dress and was escorted by the Correction Department’s ceremonial unit from a black SUV through an archway of bronze balloons and between two fountains shooting water skyward, the Daily News reported. She was led to a gold-braided throne-like chair under the tent.

There was a large cake with Pressley’s official picture in icing and Correction officials shut down the Rikers Island Bridge to allow Pressley’s SUV escorted by three official vehicles with lights flashing to leave the island.

Joseph Russo, president of the union that represents wardens, said Pressley’s event wasn’t over the top but was a “tasteful party, not inappropriate.”

He said the bash was less lavish that the July 2021 retirement celebration for Correction Department Chief Hazel Jennings, where lobster was served, alcohol flowed, and rose petals were strewn in front of her as she walked, The Daily News reported.

Using on-duty officers to staff a lavish event and closing a bridge for a three-vehicle escort is a waste of taxpayer money any way you slice it.


CA High-Speed Rail Gets More Funds Amid Budget Increases, Delays

September 6, 2022


A high-speed rail project in California that’s already $25 billion over budget and years behind schedule just received a $25 million federal grant and is seeking another $1.3 billion.

The high-speed rail under construction is supposed to ultimately connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. The train would travel at over 200 miles per hour, with the trip only taking three hours. It would run entirely on renewable energy, Reuters reported.

The $25 million grant comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation. That amount is more than half of the estimated $41 million for a design contract to connect the cities of Madera and Merced.

The project got $24 million last fall from the Biden administration "for crucial safety, efficiency and construction projects" around Wasco, the State of California said.

But the Golden State is also seeking $1.3 billion in federal grant funding to double-track the 119 miles under construction and purchase new train sets, Reuters reported.

The initial segment from Merced to Bakersfield, currently under construction, has often been maligned as a “train to nowhere,” The San Francisco Examiner reported.

As part of the 2021 $1 trillion infrastructure bill, Congress approved $66 billion for rail, with Amtrak receiving $22 billion, and $36 billion allocated for competitive grants.

While then-President Donald Trump pulled funding for the project in 2019 as it was “hobbled by delays and rising costs,” according to Reuters, in June 2021, the Biden administration restored a $929 million grant for the project.

The California project is slated to be the first U.S. high-speed rail project, partly operating by 2029 and most of it completed by 2033. Its initial $80 billion cost estimate from 2020 has already ballooned to an estimated final cost of $105 billion.

This has been in the works for a while. California voters passed a referendum in 2008 to fund the initial $10 billion bond, and two years later, $3.5 billion in federal grant money was allocated.

A high-speed train would be nice for people traveling around the third largest state in the union. But at what price?


Injured Philly Cops Stay Home Longer Than They Need

September 7, 2022


The doctors selected by the Philadelphia police union to treat injured cops on Pennsylvania’s generous Heart and Lung disability benefit have questionable practices and often keep cops out of work for much longer than accepted treatment guidelines recommend.

About 20 years ago, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 negotiated the ability to choose its own disability doctors, repeatedly recruiting physicians with questionable practices, according to an investigative report by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The city spent $24 million on salaries for police officers who are too hurt to work in fiscal year 2021, up from $6.7 million in 2008, the Inquirer reported.

This is as Philadelphia has seen high levels of gun violence, and police bosses find themselves with an officer shortage.

This uncommon arrangement, “is rife with potential conflict,” according to medical ethicists, the Inquirer reported. “To maintain a stream of patients and reliable revenue, doctors may feel obligated to keep an officer out of work longer than medically appropriate.”

Of the seven long-term doctors the police union has chosen since 2004, five have histories of alleged questionable behavior, The Inquirer found.

All worked out of small or solo practices “that operated lucrative diet-pill businesses for cash,” the newspaper reported.

One of the doctors lied in 2020, claiming to be a Philadelphia police officer when she was arrested for drunk driving. Two more declared bankruptcy.

The Inquirer raised the question: why did the police union select these doctors, especially in a medical hub like Philadelphia?

The number of officers that doctors deemed unavailable to work had more than doubled since 2017, now numbering one in seven patrol officers, the Inquirer reported.

When the officers aren’t working, their paychecks aren’t subject to state or federal income taxes, essentially giving them a 20 percent raise.

If officers are truly injured on the job, they should be on paid medical leave. This arrangement doesn’t pass the smell test and has cost city taxpayers $24 million in one year alone.



Throwback Thursday: Treasury Dept. Collects From Average Taxpayer But Not Powerful People

September 8, 2022


Throwback Thursday! 

In 1976, the Treasury Department hadn’t collected about $4.8 million in taxes — almost $25 million in 2022 dollars — “owed by government big shots who are chauffeured to and from home in government cars.”

For this double standard of taxing average Americans but ignoring the massive tax bills of the powerful, Sen. William Proxmire gave a Golden Fleece Award to the Treasury Department.

Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave awards to wasteful and nonsensical spending, eventually handing out 168 Golden Fleece Awards between 1975 and 1988.

In this instance, he noted that the cost to taxpayers to provide the cars and chauffeurs is $13 million per year — almost $68 million in 2022 figures — bringing the total to between $17 million and $18 million in costs to taxpayers and taxes not paid because of the Treasury Department’s inaction.

Proxmire noted that official cars and chauffeurs are only supposed to be used for official purposes, and outside the president, cabinet officers, ambassadors and a few others, not to be used to commute to and from the office and home.

White House staff, generals and admirals at the Pentagon, heads of agencies, and more are not eligible for home-to-work cars and chauffeurs.

But about 800 government officials in the Washington D.C. area are driven to and from work in violation of the law, Proxmire said.

The cost of the cars — gas, oil, maintenance, depreciation, etc. — is about $2,000 per year and chauffeurs are $15,000 to $17,000 per year, the senator said.

In September 1975, the Treasury Department printed in the Federal Register regarding fringe benefits that such would be treated as income and subject to taxes. But as of November 1976, the regulations were still not in effect.

“Meanwhile, the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service have cracked down on such groups as insurance salesmen who are provided cars for use in their business,” Proxmire wrote then. “They are not only being taxed currently for the ‘imputed income’ of the value of using their cars to go to and from home, but the IRS has called them in, reviewed their old tax returns and taxed them for previous years as well.”

While the Treasury has been tough on regular citizens, 14 months have gone by where government big wigs go untaxed.

“It’s time for the Treasury to put its proposed regulations into effect,” Proxmire said. “It hasn’t taken them 14 months to collect from the ordinary, middle income taxpayers.”



Student Loan Payoffs Will Cost Around $500B Over a Decade

September 9, 2022


President Joe Biden’s announcement last month that $10,000 of federal college debt would be forgiven per person was met both with praise and disgust.

College graduates burdened with debt applauded the decision, as did advocates that sought even larger forgiveness rates as high as $50,000. But those who didn’t attend college and others who have already paid off loans, as well as fiscal conservatives, decried the announcement as a reckless one that benefits few at the expense of taxpayers.

An estimate from Penn Wharton Budget Model, a group of economists and data scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, said the one-time forgiveness would cost $300 billion to forgive $10,000 in debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year, or $250,000 for married couples.

But that doesn’t include the group of grads who received federal Pell Grants who will have an additional $10,000 forgiven.

Think tank the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated that with $20,000 in debt relief for some, it would cost around $500 billion over 10 years.

Borrowers have around $1.75 trillion in student debt, according to the latest Federal Reserve figures, Reuters reported. Most of that, $1.62 trillion, is held by the federal government.

Forgiving it will be a cost passed onto the taxpayers.

And this forgiveness does nothing to get to the root of the problem: “The cost of higher education has skyrocketed in the United States in the past three decades, doubling at private four-year colleges and universities and rising even more than that at public four-year schools, according to research from the nonprofit College Board,” Reuters reported.

Will taxpayers, many of whom never went to college themselves, have to keep paying the tuition bills for other Americans?


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