Municipal budgets are stretched thin around the country due to a tough economy and a variety of unfunded state- and federal-mandated programs. Local leaders face difficult decisions about the combination of program cuts and property tax hikes that might be necessary to meet municipal budget gaps. Cutting services and raising taxes is not the path to prosperity, yet this is the unenviable position in which many local governments find themselves today.
Two areas in which we should not be cutting services include police and fire departments. The city of Bangor has some of the best first responders in the country. That said, we currently have a number of vacancies in our police department and more anticipated in the coming months with expected retirements. All the while, police recruitment numbers are down across the country, and we are not getting enough high-quality applicants for current vacancies, let alone the expected openings in the future.
At the same time, tens of thousands of men and women in the military are coming home from service overseas, many of whom cannot find jobs. Police and fire chiefs agree they could be great applicants because of their level of skill, discipline and professionalism.
Exactly one year ago, Congress passed and the president signed the Vow to Hire Heroes Act, which provides tax benefits to businesses that hire veterans. While this bill has been a positive development for veterans and businesses alike, it should be expanded to provide similar benefits and incentives to municipalities and state governments that hire veterans. Currently, local and state governments are excluded from assistance under the Heroes Act.
This is first and foremost the right thing to do for veterans. We owe a special debt of gratitude to men and women in uniform, and it is our moral obligation to help those who have served transition back to civilian life.
Second, expansion of the Heroes Act would create jobs by helping municipalities shoulder the financial burden of hiring quality applicants for critical positions in police and fire departments around the country. Our streets would be safer, and residents would sleep better at night knowing that America’s finest are protecting us at home just as they did overseas.
Other municipal departments might also benefit from hiring veterans, such as engineering, public works and even the school department and airport.
Furthermore, such a program would have a profound ripple effect. With municipal budgets not stretched quite so thin, we would have more money to invest in the very men and women we are employing, veteran and nonveteran alike, as well as critical infrastructure projects, schools and teachers, economic development initiatives and property tax relief.
While the notion of supporting our troops is now firmly entrenched in our political lexicon, many returning veterans today face a difficult transition back to civilian life. While one thing that all politicians seem to have in common is a promise to support our troops, turning that promise into policy has proven to be more elusive. Expanding the Heroes Act to create incentive to assist municipalities and states in hiring veterans would be a positive step toward showing real support for veterans.
It also would demonstrate that federal, state and municipal governments can work together and do the right thing.
Jason Foley is an Iraq-Afghanistan combat veteran. Patrick Frazier is a Marine Corps veteran. Ben Sprague serves on the Bangor City Council and the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board. All three are graduates of the Bangor High School class of 2002.