Just Bill Barr Unpersoning Some Entire Cities For Donald Trump
The Department of Justice announced this morning that it would be officially designating New York City, Seattle, and Portland as "anarchist jurisdictions" — a term that means absolutely nothing, but that they are claiming means the cities "have permitted violence and destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities."
It would be super fun to roll our eyes at this, at how this is a really weird move for a party that is supposedly so upset about cancel culture and thinks that consumer boycotts are a violation of the First Amendment, and also how stupid Donald Trump doesn't even know what anarchism is. But the purpose for the designation is that Trump wants to "defund" these cities. He wants to take away their federal funding. You may recall that he has tried to do this before with sanctuary cities. It's become his go-to whenever he feels like he's not getting his way.
Rather than idle words, the designation has potential financial consequences. President Trump issued a memo earlier this month directing the DOJ to identify jurisdictions that, in its view, were not enforcing the law appropriately. Designated cities could lose their federal funding.
Trump's order gives the director of the Office of Management and Budget 30 days to issue guidance to federal agencies on restricting eligibility for federal grants for the cities on the DOJ list. Such grants make up a huge portion of NYC's already strapped annual budget — more than $7 billion in fiscal 2021 alone, or 7.5% of the city's projected total revenue.
In justifying its decision, the DOJ cited New York City's rising gun violence, cuts to the NYPD's budget, and moves by various district attorneys not to prosecute charges related to protests earlier this summer.
"We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.
Both the city and the state have threatened to sue the federal government over the possible DOJ classification.
Both New York and Washington are what we call "donor states," paying more in federal taxes than they get back. Oregon isn't, but Portland itself has a higher per capita income than the United States average, which means that the city itself may pay more into the system than it gets back.
But that actually doesn't matter. Regardless of how much they pay or get, the DOJ would still be expecting that citizens of these cities pay federal taxes and get nothing back for them. It is, however, a little more galling when these areas pay in a lot more than they get already. What Trump wants is to be allowed to steal money from cities that don't like him.
As much as the Right sees taxes as stealing — reappropriating the actual anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's 'Property is Theft' credo to 'Taxation is theft' — it's not. Because taxes are supposed to benefit all of us. Maybe not always directly (and they can be used for things, like war, that hurt us), but they benefit us all the same. I don't have children, but I benefit from children being educated. We all benefit from welfare programs not just because we want them to be there for us if we ever need them, not just because we care for the poor, but also because starving people is not a thing that traditionally ends well.
Oh, and it benefits our economy if people have money to spend.
But if you literally just take taxes from cities you don't like and then refuse to give them anything back for that, that is actually stealing. Given the fact that our entire government is set up to ensure that people in urban areas are given less representation than people in rural areas ... that's practically "taxation without representation."
When Trump was planning on taking California's federal funding away, there was a lot of talk about the entire state refusing to pay federal taxes.
"California could very well become an organized non-payer," said Willie Brown, Jr, a former speaker of the state Assembly in an interview recorded Friday for KPIX 5's Sunday morning news. "They could recommend non-compliance with the federal tax code."
Hypothetically, New York, Washington, and Oregon could all decide to do that. And other states could do that once their major cities get cut off. And then maybe all of those states could pool their taxes together and have their own "federal tax" that only benefits their states.
This could be an option, but it would be a pretty sad one. It would hurt poor people in red states that don't have anything to do with any of this. That is why we don't just cut off states that don't do what we want when we are in charge. This is not a game Trump should want to play, but if he does want to play it, he's going to lose.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse