Municipal Budget Mess

A recent report from the National League of Cities projects a grim financial situation for many municipal governments during the next three years. According to the report the municipal sector "likely faces a combined, estimated shortfall of anywhere from $56 billion to $83 billion from 2010-2012." Such shortfalls will be "driven by declining tax revenues, ongoing service demands and cuts in state revenues". Facing large deficits, cities around the nation may be forced to "cure revenue declines and spending pressures with higher service fees, layoffs, unpaid furloughs, and drawing on reserves or canceling infrastructure projects".

The process of belt tightening has already begun in cities across the nation. In Michigan, the city of Jackson is asking municipal workers to take pay cuts to help close a $900,000 budget deficit. Toledo, Ohio, another rust belt city hard hit by the recession, may face a deficit of up to $44 million, and is being forced to consider "mid-contract union concessions, cutting city spending, and possibly asking the voters to increase the city's 2.25 percent income tax."

In California, already challenged by record state deficits, the city of Los Angeles may have a budget shortfall of $1 billion by 2013, "driven primarily by escalating employee pension costs and stagnant tax revenues". For the current fiscal year the city faces a deficit of $98 million. Under such budget conditions, the city's administrative officer projects substantial cuts to city services will be "unavoidable".

With states already facing their own set of budget challenges, the League of Cities is calling on the federal government to intercede. According to the League, "in the absence of additional federal intervention, a deepening local fiscal crisis could hobble the nation’s incipient recovery with more layoffs, furloughs, cancelled infrastructure projects, and reduced services." However, with an exploding federal debt load and federal budget deficits running at all time highs, municipal cries for increased aid may face a lukewarm reception in Washington, DC. Support for expanded stimulus efforts might prove lacking, with signs beginning to emerge that a mild economic recovery is underway, and many of the already passed stimulus dollars yet to be spent.

For now, cities facing deficits will have to find ways to solve the shortfall on their own. If they are unable to bridge the gap, municipalities may find themselves forced, like the city of Vallejo, California,to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.

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