As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, October 05, 2009

Ruled By Neo-Hooverists

What leaped out of last Friday's pathetic jobs report for a lot of people was the significant drop in employment for government workers, particularly at the state and local level:

The latest jobs numbers from the Labor Department are out. In the past, we’ve noted the protected status of government workers. While private sector payrolls were falling like a stone, government employment at every level was growing. In recent months it had been falling slightly, but still remained above its pre-recession levels.

No more. In September, state and local government payrolls fell below the levels of December 2007, when the recession began. The declines indicate the pain that state and local governments are feeling from severe budget shortfalls, despite the $787 billion stimulus package last winter.

There's a very good reason that the stimulus package failed to avert this drop in state and local government payrolls. During the stimulus debate, Presidents Ben Nelson and Susan Collins decided to drop $40 billion dollars in state-based aid that would have gone directly to saving these jobs. Presumably faced with no choice to clear the 60-vote cloture hurdle, Democrats and the Administration went along, and that state aid vanished. So unsurprisingly, as a result, state worker jobs have vanished right along with it. That translates to hundreds of thousands of jobs all over the country that would have meant hundreds of thousands more consumers with spending money, hundreds of thousands more people off the unemployment insurance rolls and contributing to state budgets rather than taking from them, hundreds of thousands more people providing help and aid to others who have trouble getting it due to scaled-back state workforces.

It was a terrible, terrible idea. Especially because the woes for state budgets are only beginning, and what aid did come with the stimulus will probably run out before state economies recover.

History suggests it could take six or more years for sales and income taxes — which make up roughly two-thirds of states' revenue — to return to pre-recession levels. That augurs deeper cuts to state jobs and services in order to maintain funding for core programs such as public schools and Medicaid.

What's different from the three previous recessions, which took states three to five years to recover from, is that employment and consumer spending aren't expected to bounce back as quickly.

To balance their budgets in the meantime, states are likely to further raise taxes on the money people earn and spend; increase college tuition; reduce funding for the arts and other cultural programs; and push costs into the future by delaying pay raises for employees and repairs of government buildings. Some states, including Massachusetts, Missouri and Arizona, already are making or considering fresh cuts just months after lawmakers agreed on new budgets.

I would say that $40 billion dollars in direct aid could have gone a long way right now and in the future. But instead, we are ruled by neo-Hooverists.

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