Monday, March 22, 2010

Local budget cuts will outlast the recession

The recession may be ending, but local government budget cuts resulting from the downturn may have long-lasting implications, at least in Georgia, where the state has cut its budget too. "Experts say those lean years will finally dissipate to reveal a new reality: Local government will have been right-sized or wrong-sized, depending on your perspective, but it will be smaller," Richard Halicks reports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "And our assumptions about it and our expectations of it will be altered, too."

Alan Essig, a former state budget analyst who heads the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, told Halicks, "In most past recessions you have that one year of pain and then you can put things back together. This is going to be very different. We are fundamentally resizing government ... If we’re not going to increase revenue some sizable amount, all these budget cuts are permanent." Hawkins concludes, "If you can think of a service provided by local or state government, chances are good that you’ll be able to find either a reduction in that service or an increase in what you pay for it, or both."

In Georgia, local and state budget cuts will be reflected in fewer teachers and more students, increases in college tuition, shortened school years, cuts to the lottery-funded scholarship program, teacher salaries and school arts programs. Also, expect increased buyout offers for government employees before eventual layoffs, Hawkins writes. Katherine Willoughby, a professor of public administration and urban studies at Georgia State University, thinks the paring of local government may be good in the long run. "To me, you just kind of have to have your back against the wall before you’re going to start moving forward," she told the AJC. "I don’t want to say I’m glad, but it has taken this for people to understand just what government does — the breadth of it, what's possible." (Read more)

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