May 9, 2010; The Oklahoman | The government revenue problems caused by the Great Recession rumble through all levels of government, but linger most in local governments where revenue generation depends primarily on property taxes. It’s probably more pronounced in this recession than others due to the significance of rampant mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures, meaning that residents and mortgagees aren’t paying their property taxes with much regularity.
The economy has forced cities to take desperate measures, such as the decision to turn off a third of the city’s streetlights in Colorado Springs (with the option that residents can adopt a streetlight for $75). As state revenues begin to pick up with the purported economic recovery, cities aren’t keeping up.
In Congress, Representative George Miller (D-CA) gained 152 cosponsors in the House for his proposed legislation to help cities and counties preserve jobs. The bill would provide $75 billion for aid to cities and counties, $23 billion for teachers’ jobs, and the remainder for police and fire departments. The $75 billion could be used by local governments to help nonprofit service providers, working as government contractors, maintain their staffing to deliver services.
Prospects for this local government stimulus are iffy. It’s an election year, so Republicans in the Senate might see this as a Democratic initiative to support their local government and teacher union allies. But local officials from Republican-controlled states and districts are lobbying hard to get the money like their Democratic local government counterparts. They know the value of a dollar in a local budget doesn’t carry a “D” or “R” to make it count toward maintaining critical local government and nonprofit functions.—Rick Cohen