As the United States struggles to fight the coronavirus pandemic, states, counties, cities, and school district leaders must develop and implement a recovery plan. The National League of Cities, The United States Conference of Mayors, and National Association of Counties are all ready to face the challenges and help develop recovery plans to assist members.

These state, regional, and local governments have lost revenues despite the $2.2 trillion in federal stimulus. We will see if the federal package will actually help the locals. For now, it’s too soon to tell. Soon we will move from response operations to the recovery phase followed in emergency management circles.

While state and local governments take major hits, our federal government marchs on. Federal pay checks and pension checks for their retirees are on the way to workers and retirees. Senators, members of Congress, and their staff haven’t taken a haircut and likely won’t.

We believe leadership starts at the top. Sometimes it feels like America is burning and Washington,  D.C., just fiddles.  The states, counties, cities, and special districts are where the rubber meets the road and services are delivered.

So, what will state and local governments be forced to do? That is a great question and one that employees — who protect you, fix your roads, keep the power on, water running, make flood-control systems work, keep bridges safe, maintain your libraries and schools, provide healthcare, keep airports operating, parks open,  your sewers working, keep food safe, complete building inspections, and teach schools —want to know. Taxpayers are also anxious to see how locals do more with less.

Sadly, leaders who work for your elected officials don’t have a lot of good options. No matter what the recovery plans of our state and local governments are, they won’t be able to recover overnight. The Great Recession of 2008 is still fresh in the memories of many of today’s government leaders and those they serve. We believe our economic recovery will be steady and strong.

Many of our state and local elected policymakers just entered new offices. Some have only a few months or years in office. The polices they develop and approve now are mission-essential for those who will implement them. The elected leaders set the pace and the appointed leaders implement it.

Leadership teams of the Great Recession era implemented polices. This is a sampling of what had to be done to begin a recovery plan back in 2008. Not every state or local government used all these steps, but many had no other choice but to use some. Just to refresh your memory, here we go down memory lane:

1. Across the board 10% budget cuts with no exceptions — just can’t do this if you have contracts in place.

2. Leaders and some elected policymakers took at 10% pay cut to lead by example.

3. Employees that had government cars they took home had the privilege revoked —except for law and fire personnel.

4. Many workers were furloughed by their leaders and services were shut down typically on an every- Friday basis.

5. A hiring freeze stopped new recruits from being hired. Some exceptions were for public safety.

6. Official travel was all but eliminated except for special cases and conference attendance was cancelled in favor of teleconferences.

7. Step increases and cost-of-living increases were suspended — another item that has to be negotiated.

9. Early retirements or golden handshakes got longtime employees off state and local payrolls and into the public retirement payroll system.

10. Executive bonuses (yes, some in government get them) were suspended indefinitely.

11. Vacation balances were reduced to lower the burden on the government books. Use-it-or-lose-it became a popular term. This also requires negotiation.

12. Overtime, except for public safety, was cut or eliminated across the board.

13. The purchase of durable goods and fleet vehicles was delayed or cancelled.

14. Employees on all levels had to pay more of their pension contributions and also endured benefit cuts.

15. Pension plans were reformed in many cases reducing the pension benefits.

16. When concessions can’t be reached with labor leadership — employees were laid off to make the budget target. The rule last in,  first out was applied.

All these programs and polices had dramatic impacts on the public served and those people who report for duty each and every day. You public employees are dedicated professionals just like counterparts in private sector jobs.

Like your families, government workers set their budget on what they earn. It is impossible to know that you will have to take a cut in pay or benefits because of a global pandemic. Your rent, mortgage, car payment, utilities, and other bills are based on income you had before the cuts. Credit ratings also get hammered. Seems Congress was able to find time to take care of the arts, Kennedy Center, and other important items in the $2.2 trillion in funding but left out protecting your credit when you can’t pay your bills.

The best leaders make the tough calls and they make those calls because it’s the right thing to do — not because it is popular.

Over the months and years ahead we will see which state and local elected officials will make the toughest policy calls. They need our support and they need to hear from the stakeholders, unions, employees, retirees,  and the citizens that governments protect and serve.

None of those who are electe , most from every walk of life and profession, had any idea that a global pandemic would hit their state, county, city, or special districts.

Today, elected leaders are painfully aware that this battle is the most formidable they will likely face. Floods, wild fires, tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes are a mess and lives are lost in those emergencies, too. We just haven’t seen anything like this as a nation or a world in our lifetime.

State and local government reserves built up since 2008’s Great Recession won’t last long and we still don’t know how the Great Coronavirus Pandemic will cost us. At this very moment, all are focused on flattening that curve and treating those diagnosed with this frightening virus.

Please reach out to your local elected officials and appointed leaders and share your thoughts. The vast majority will appreciate and welcome your comments by  phone, email, or text. They feel it’s a privilege to serve and care more about you than they do themselves. At least the ones I know feel that way.

Please refrain from those cheap shots. Now is the time for solutions and strategies, not name-calling or  finger-pointing. State and local governments will do their best and continue to deliver services to the public during and after the Great Coronavirus pandemic.


Image Sources

  • Recovery: Shutterstock