Tennessee lawmakers began a new session of the General Assembly yesterday facing the challenge of balancing a state budget with what may be a nearly billion dollar shortfall.
The current year’s budget includes a 10 percent reduction in the state budget, though many of those cuts were softened by the $2.2 billion in stimulus money that Tennessee received. And though the State Funding Board has projected that state revenues will modestly increase during the upcoming budget year, this growth will not be nearly enough to make up for the loss of the stimulus funds.
The Governor is asking state agencies for proposals cutting between 6 percent and 9 percent from their spending plans for this budget year. Of particular concern are cuts to vital mental health care programs that are already underfunded.
Given that Tennessee is not alone in its current financial straits, the Death Penalty Information Center recently released a report called Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis. This report not only reiterates the fact that the death penalty system is enormously expensive and wasteful for state budgets with no clear benefits but also includes a newly released poll of 500 randomly selected police chiefs nationwide. In this poll, police chiefs were asked to name one area most important for reducing violent crime. The greater use of the death penalty ranked last among their priorities. Instead, increasing the number of police officers, reducing drug abuse, and neighborhood watch programs, all ranked much higher than the death penalty.
Regardless of one’s position on the death penalty, it is time for us to work together and get smart about preventing violence in our communities by investing our limited resources in those initiatives that law enforcement have already told us reduce violent crime.
It is time to repeal the death penalty and use the savings to invest in law enforcement, create more treatment programs, more access to mental health care, and to give murder victims’ families the resources that they need in the aftermath of a violent crime.
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