The recession that started in 2007 slammed home values and retirement savings, shredded jobs and left us in a deep hole. And it hit state budgets in two ways—draining them of revenues while increasing the number of people who need services. What has that meant over the last few years? According to a new report, it’s meant devastating cuts in the services states provide.
The report, assembled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, shows that states have cut some $291 billion from their budgets over the last four years—coming out of the services their recession-scarred citizens needed the most:
• 23 states deeply cut K-12 and early-childhood education.
• 26 states cut higher education.
• 20 states cut health care programs.
That means fewer teachers in the classroom, less access to health care for working-class families and a hard hill to climb to get to college. It also means the loss of more than 600,000 jobs, a serious drag on our economy.
When a teacher or a public-safety employee loses their job, it has the same economic impact as anyone else losing a job: they have less money to spend in the community, they have a harder time staying in their home, and they are now competing for the small number of job openings in the same job market as anyone else. That’s in addition to what the community loses when there’s one less person to teach, put out fires or perform other public services.
Of course, this problem could have been helped if Congress had passed the American Jobs Act or the section of it that was introduced as Senate Bill 1723 last year. These bills would fund aid to state to hire teachers and public safety employees, paid for by a small surtax on income over $1 million a year. In the predictable pattern, these bills didn’t come up for a vote—they were killed by the filibuster.
And not to dredge up ancient history, but it’s worth noting that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February of 2009, could have done much more to alleviate this problem—except that Senators Ben Nelson and Susan Collins demanded an arbitrary cut as their price for voting for the bill, a cut that devastated state budgets. While it got ARRA the votes it needed to break a filibuster, this cut undermined ARRA’s capacity to help protect jobs and services at the state level.
We’re going to be watching state legislators closely to see where there priorities are. Will they keep piling the burden of balancing budgets on the most vulnerable people?