Since the start of the summer, dozens of local and state governments, including several in California, have considered reducing funding to law enforcement. Now, as he works to establish himself as a champion of law and order, President Donald Trump is calling on federal agencies to cut off funding to these governments he considers to be “anarchist jurisdictions.”
But experts say it’s unlikely to happen.
The White House memo, issued Wednesday, calls on U.S. Attorney General William Barr to identify cities and states that meet Trump’s definition of anarchist institutions. Disempowering or defunding police departments are among the criteria Trump wants Barr to consider.
“My administration will not allow federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones,” Trump wrote in the memo. “To ensure that federal funds are neither unduly wasted nor spent in a manner that directly violates our government’s promise to protect life, liberty, and property, it is imperative that the federal government review the use of federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America’s cities.”
In response to protests over the police shooting of Black people across the country, several California cities this summer have reallocated funding from law enforcement, instead putting it toward social programs for underserved communities.
California lawmakers last week passed a pack of bills intended to rein in police misconduct, including a measure that creates a pilot program to fund civilian emergency response teams that could respond to crises instead of law enforcement officers.
Los Angeles at the start of July cut $150 million from the LAPD’s budget for the next fiscal year. San Francisco cut $120 million from law enforcement, with promises to invest the funds in its Black community.
The Oakland City Council voted to create a task force with the goal of cutting funding for police by 50% over the next two years, according to The East Bay Times. The Sacramento City Council is expected to discuss it’s own police funding cut next week.
Trump and Republicans have characterized these actions as contributing to high crime and lawlessness rates. In his memo, he took aim at Seattle, Portland and New York City, where, in some instances, protests over racial injustice have turned violent and led to looting or the destruction of businesses.
The president has seized on the unrest as one example of mismanagement in Democratic-run cities, a theme that was heavily emphasized during the Republican National Convention last week.
The memo issued this week directs the Office of Management and Budget to issue guidance to the heads of agencies within the next month on restricting the eligibility of designated “anarchist jurisdictions” from receiving federal grants.
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But might not be that simple.
In California, federal funds make up about 30.7% of state revenue, according to Pew Research Center data from 2017. A large amount of federal funding goes directly to individuals through programs like social security, medicare and government employee benefits.
Other payouts that go directly to the state are used for programs like Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF. The majority ofthese federal funds are allocated through laws passed by Congress, and thus not subject to changes or conditions from the executive branch.
A similar issue present itself in 2017 when Trump attempted to block federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities,” or jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with immigration enforcement. Shortly after Trump issued an executive order halting funding for those localities, a judge in San Francisco blocked the order, saying only Congress could place such conditions on spending.
A dozen lawsuits have been brought against the Trump administration for the order, and according to PolitiFact, the Justice Department has not been successful in withholding federal funds for sanctuary cities.
Erwin Chemerinksy, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, said Trump’s latest attempt to cut funding for “anarchist jurisdictions” is “clearly unconstitutional.”
“Congress can set conditions on grants to state and local governments, and Congress can say, if the state or local government doesn’t do something then they’re going to lose their money,” Chemerinsky said. “The president doesn’t have the authority to do this.”
There’s also a federal statue, the Impoundment Control Act, he added, that says once Congress has appropriated money, the president has no authority to refuse to spend the money.
“This is about the president’s own political objectives, of who he thinks is an anarchist city,” Chemerinsky said. “I found it outrageous that he’s trying to use these federal funds cities depend on to help his own political campaign.”
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