1. Archive

There must be other solutions to problems than increased taxes

Re: Kids, crime and taxes, by Martin Dyckman, Feb. 4.

It is amazing to us how a column on kids and the crimes that they commit becomes yet another call by your newspaper for increased taxes. Can't you think of something else to solve the problem? Is it not possible that there are other solutions?

As law students, we had the opportunity to work with the Office of the Public Defender of Hillsborough County and actually defend children in criminal cases. The problem with the juvenile justice system is not a lack of funding but rather a lack of parental involvement. We cannot tell you how many parents we saw who could not care less about what their children do and what their children need, expecting the state to assume their parental responsibilities. Such parental problems cannot be solved by throwing money at the system. Government money is better spent counseling parents on providing a better home life for their kids rather than prosecuting children for having uninvolved parents.

Another problem is simply the sheer volume of cases filed by the state. When it comes time to prosecute real troublemakers, taxpayers are cheated because resources are diluted among the many frivolous cases pursued by the state. For instance, if a child gets into a fight with another child on the school playground, resulting in no injury, parents do not take care of the problem among themselves. Rather, parents race to involve the criminal justice system; the child with the slower parent becomes a defendant who will likely be adjudicated "delinquent." Little or no pre-charge investigation, to ascertain the truth of the matter, is ever adequately performed.

In Hillsborough County, an assistant state attorney who becomes ultimately responsible for the prosecution of a case is not responsible for deciding which charges are filed by the state; this function is performed by intake personnel. The result is that the assistant state attorney and an assistant public defender must waste valuable time preparing and trying cases that have little chance of resulting in conviction. This is why only 25 percent of the cases we were involved in defending resulted in conviction. By allowing the prosecuting attorney to screen cases himself, before charges are filed, he will not be forced to waste his time and our tax dollars with legally insufficient accusations.

Perhaps the resources we already have are enough. The state of Florida should not have to act as a surrogate parent to those children who already have one, nor should taxpayers have to subsidize the bureaucratic waste that suffocates our criminal justice system.

E. Warren and Patricia L. Parker, Gulfport

Keith's column "balderdash'

Re: Curb cost-of-living increases on federal pensions, Jan. 31.

It seems incredible that the St. Petersburg Times gave space to the nonsense concocted by ex-Congressman Hastings Keith. He has maligned federal retirees for years with his crocodile tears over his own munificent multiple receipts, implying that his case is typical of all federal annuitants.

This is just not so. The average Civil Service annuity is $1,300 per month. (Over 45 percent receive less than $1,000 and the monthly survivor benefit averages a mere $650.) Unlike Keith, most civil service retirees receive no added military retirement benefits, and many spent their full careers in federal government service and have no eligibility for Social Security payments.

In any event, it is wrong to compare Social Security recipients with federal annuitants. Social Security is a form of insurance intended to supplement other retirement income. The Civil Service Retirement system was established in 1920 as a staff retirement plan which provides reasonable annuities earned by employees after long years of faithful service. The annual cost-of-living adjustments are essential to prevent these earned annuities from disappearing in a sea of inflation.

Further, Civil Service annuities are fully taxable. Social Security payments are not.

Keith's figure of nearly "$2-trillion" in "federal pension liabilities" is a chimera. Each year, the full cost of annuities, cost-of-living payments, and administration for the over 2-million recipients is more than covered by (1) employee contributions, (2) agency matching payments (a normal employer cost for a retirement plan), and (3) interest earnings from the government securities in which the 1920 law requires the fund to invest. In 1990, this income exceeded outlays by $1.8-billion. The Office of Personnel Administration continually reports the Civil Service Retirement Fund as actuarially sound.

In sum, Keith's position is balderdash. Federal annuities are by no means "lavish." If his own retirement income is so extravagant, he has the option to show a little altruism with some charitable donations, or else he could return the excess to the Treasury.

Donald V. Geoffrion, St. Petersburg