Back during the stimulus debate, one of the items that was pared back in order to get the overall package under an arbitrary $800 billion price tag was fiscal aid to states and local governments. $40 billion that would have gone to help states weather the economic downturn was lopped off of the bill to placate moderate senators.
As it turns out — and as many economists said at the time — this was not a very good idea. A new report from the Pew Center on the States warns of “fiscal peril” in 10 states which, if unaddressed, will hamper the nation’s economic recovery:
These states’ budget troubles can have dramatic consequences for their residents: higher taxes, layoffs or furloughs of state workers, longer waits for public services, more crowded classrooms, higher college tuition and less support for the poor or unemployed. But they also pose challenges for the country as a whole. The 10 states account for more than a third of America’s population and economic output. And actions taken by state governments to balance their budgets — such as tax increases and drastic spending cuts — can slow down the nation’s economic recovery.
“The problems are evident from coast to coast,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com. “Without more help to state and local governments, the resulting budget cuts will become a very significant drag on the economy.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that state budget shortfalls could mean that nearly a million jobs to disappear in the next year:
Presuming they will get no more fiscal relief, states will have to take steps to eliminate deficits for state fiscal year 2011 that will likely take nearly a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product. That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year…Deficits for the current state fiscal year, not all of which states have closed, total more than 25 percent of state general fund budgets, making these the largest shortfalls on record.
As Derek Thompson wrote, those protesting more state aid “must recognize what that entails: hundreds of thousands of state employees joining the ranks of unemployment, and unemployment benefits. Q3 was great, but this thing isn’t close to being over.” And these employees are teachers, police officers, and health care workers — not the kind of employees that it’s easy to make do with less of.
The administration announced today that it is planning a “jobs summit” for December, with Obama calling high unemployment one of the administration’s “great challenges.” If the administration is serious about policies aimed at stemming job loss, more aid to states should certainly be on the table.