September, 2011; Source: Governing | Peter Harkness, who writes Governing’s Potomac Chronicle column, says the citizenry is ill-prepared and under-informed regarding the funding cuts coming down the pike. That may mean nonprofits too.

Despite indications by someone somewhere that the nation is emerging from the recession and state budget revenues are on the upswing, Harkness believes that “the full brunt of the Great Recession is washing over most states and localities like a tsunami, carrying away programs and people on a scale that was unimaginable a short time ago.”

He touches on the pure ignorance of many government critics, such as the Tea Party supporter marching with a poster that oxymoronically read, “Keep Government’s Hands Off My Medicare!” The misinformation and deceit about governmental expenditures are widespread, abetted by those who simply don’t care about the facts but are impelled to protest against government—and the people who need governmental assistance—as an involuntary reflex of their central nervous systems. 

The truly scary stuff he lays out is this:

  • This school year, some two-thirds of school districts will be laying off teachers and staff, resulting in 250,000 layoffs in total.
  • State college tuitions around the nation have been increasing by as much as 20 percent per year in some areas. (Florida has had three consecutive tuition increases of 15 percent—but only because that’s the largest annual hike allowed by state law.)
  • Between August of 2008 and May of 2011, there were 535,000 public sector workers laid off, and that number could soon reach 800,000, with four-fifths of the layoffs coming from local government.

Why the big cuts? The federal stimulus money has run out, and some programs likely to be cut on the federal level are administered through the states. Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) notes that seniors, a powerful voting constituency, will probably protect their Medicare piece of the federal funding picture. Meanwhile, poor people and children don’t have that strength at the ballot box, so the kinds of programs they use, such as Medicaid, are “on the chopping block.”

Here’s what Harkness’s picture means to us: All of those hundreds of thousands of local government-personnel layoffs will mean that the services that local government once provided will increasingly fall to mission-driven nonprofits—but without the money to pay for them.—Rick Cohen