We have looked forward to emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown since it loomed over us in February.
Many of us have demanded it since it became evident in April that diagnosed COVID sicknesses have barely touched our area: Clearfield County, 37 cases, 79,000 residents; Jefferson County, seven cases, 44,000 residents; Elk County, six cases, 30,000 residents.
We are now reopening.
But we cannot recapture money lost to local governments.
Taxes on wages make up around one-fourth of the dollars budgeted by cities, boroughs and townships, and near 10 percent of revenue for counties.
Some school districts get 5 percent of their income directly that way. But about half of school districts’ money comes from state government in one way or another — and state government has lost about one-quarter of its near 4 percent state income tax, plus one-third or more of the 6 percent sales tax earmarked for education.
That money is gone. Budgets must be balanced.
So — what gets cut in our local communities?
Local governments are required to balance their budgets.
If, for talking purposes, one-quarter of the money they take in is gone, how can they cut spending by 25 percent?
For municipal governments, payroll might be cut in areas involving code enforcement, recreation and the like. Those cuts will cause problems; otherwise, why would we have hired those people?
For school districts, cuts are complicated by state laws restricting how labor costs can be reduced in unionized environments. Athletics, music and art, the traditional “dessert” programs, are always prime targets.
“Don’t cut this! We need it!” arguments might preserve some programs, if rational and workable.
But “Don’t cut this! We love it!” will fall on deaf ears. We can no longer afford all the programs, parks, sports fields, and playgrounds. etc., that we have come to love.
How do our local governments get by with less money?
Many will need to do just what our local families have done when breadwinners lost jobs due to the COVID lockdown; subsist on unemployment; cut expenses; or even sell assets. That third car for the teenagers, the summer vacation trip, a new smartphone — families have had to cut things like these, and more.
What expenses will governments cut in the months ahead?
Specific answers are not yet clear. But one aspect is starkly evident: The pain of the COVID shutdown will not end as we reopen our economy this summer.
— Denny Bonavita