States and cities rely on business-generated tax revenue to help pay for employees delivering public services, like sanitation workers, first responders, health and safety workers, and librarians.
Until recently, that is.
In the six weeks since the coronavirus pandemic began ravaging U.S. businesses, more than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment.
And with businesses tanking, many local governments are running out of money to pay for those public services.
Cities like Dayton, Ohio, are having to make tough decisions in response to the economic crisis. Mayor Nan Whaley says the city has furloughed 470 employees — about 25% of its workforce. She says the cuts have affected nearly every department except for police and fire services.
Whaley is calling on the federal government to help before the city is forced to lose those critical public workers. Nearly $3 trillion has been approved in federal coronavirus relief assistance, but little of that has made its way to state or local governments.
Whatley says that what federal aid has been disbursed has gone to a limited number of cities with populations of more than 500,000, while most people live in smaller cities like Dayton, with a population of about 140,000.
“We have not seen very much of that money, if any at all, here in Dayton,” she says.
Without the help of federal aid, Whaley says, “It will be very, very painful.”
Here are excerpts from the conversation.
What is your response to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who argues the federal government shouldn’t be responsible for bailing out local governments who have not budgeted accordingly?
Well, I think that’s laughable. I don’t think anybody was budgeting [for] a pandemic last December. I think that Sen. McConnell needs to really get a reality check of what’s going on on the ground here.
These are cities that have had tough times, even past the Great Recession. And then to have a disaster where they have to provide front-line services — it’s exactly what the federal government should do if they want the recovery to happen quickly.
What happens if Dayton and other cities like yours don’t get this money?
It will be very, very painful. We will see less police officers. We will see less firefighters. We will have to do services dramatically differently, if we do some services at all. And I’m talking about the equity issues of helping kids in summer.
And our city is a poor city. You will see cities like Dayton get to the very, very minimum, and then we will see where they actually cut to bone and aren’t doing services that are needed for a prosperous economy.