Operation Clean-up makes sense

While the savings to taxpayers cannot balance the budget, every little bit helps.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has come up with an idea to save a little money while allowing offenders to perform their court-mandated community service. With Operation Clean-up, people who owe community service will fulfill that requirement by picking up litter and trash on Minnesota thoroughfares.

This is not a fully novel idea. The crews are part of the Sentencing to Service practice, in which judges sentence nonviolent offenders to service instead of jail or fines, in addition to jail or as part of their probation.

It seems like a win-win situation: The state saves money, and offenders fulfill their debt to society. Some have questioned whether those who participate will be paid enough or at all. We find this confusing, given that they are fulfilling the comunity service part of their sentences.

Council 5 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees does not think it’s as simple as that, and it is suing the state. It is the AFSCME leadership’s job to protect the job security of its members. But we don’t understand why it’s picking this battle, which is legally uncertain and pits the union against a program with no downside.

But from the union’s point of view, the state is filling jobs it should be filling with union labor, in fact, has to attempt to fill with union labor by law before looking elsewhere.

Anyway, the state will argue it can use inmates to work for state agencies on state land, to which the union will counter the statute that allows this state practice is too old (it was originally passed in 1935). Ah, the old our-statute-is-better-than-yours trick. That sounds overly sarcastic, but the court battle is likey to be an enthralling exercise in statutory interpretation.

While we’re usually up for a good afternoon of legislative intent or deference to administrative agency discussions, the reality of this question seems so clear cut.

The program will have 150 crews of eight people who will work a total 48,000 hours, per Pawlenty’s Web site. While the savings are not going to balance the budget, Minnesota does need to save money where it can.

In the end, Operation Clean-up is as simple as it first seems. Minnesota taxpayers save money and offenders fulfill their debt to society.