Cuts and consequences

-A A +A

Government staff cuts pinch everyday life

By Hal Rhodes

Those angry growls you hear are likely emanating from employees of state, local and county governments around these United States, and their fury is approaching the level a roar. Two years into the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression, there’s barely a state where declining tax revenues haven’t produced budget shortfalls the likes of which haven’t gripped state and local governments in decades.

When states have money problems, of course, those woes automatically spread to their cities and counties,  which find themselves having to take all sorts of measures—often counter-productive in nature—to balance expenditures against revenues.

California, with its blatantly undemocratic setup that permits a minority of state lawmakers to veto tax hikes backed by a legislative majority, is in a league of its own where imbalanced budgets are concerned.

As a consequence, despite draconian state and local budget cuts, the Golden State’s fiscal affairs remain radically out of whack.

In an exercise of executive power unlike anything since the monarchs of Divine Rights Days, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger  unilaterally promulgated an edict reducing state employees’ salaries to the minimum wage.

Right-wing California Republicans, who are usually aghast at Schwarzenegger’s moderate brand of Republicanism, suddenly became enamored of their governor.

State workers, however, are furious as they try to imagine a minimum-waged life in one of Earth’s most expensive locales.

Here in New Mexico, perhaps inspired by Arnold’s example in California, Albuquerque’s new Mayor Richard Berry, also a Republican, wants to reduce his city’s imbalanced budget with his royal municipal pen by slashing city employees’ salaries by 2.5 percent.

It will leave Duke City workers above the minimum wage, but fails to exempt even public safety workers including fire and police personnel.

The police and fire unions (and, privately, some city bureaucrats) predict an exodus of irate public safety workers to retirement and job opportunities elsewhere.

But, in the best tradition of  “Let Them Eat Cake,” Berry contends that there are lots of people lined up for their jobs if that happens.

Elsewhere in New Mexico, the AP reports that the City of Farmington has already cut 45 jobs through attrition and envisions still more reductions.

Reportedly, the city manager also anticipates cuts in city workers’ hours by more than 10 percent.

Personnel cuts and reductions in public employees’ hours on the job have consequences wherever they happen.

Nor are you apt to find a municipality in this state, large or small, where some variation on that theme isn’t having an adverse impact on local life.

Belen, which bills itself “The Hub City,” boasts a population of more than 7,000 and until recently had a recreation department of five full-time and two part-time staffers.

Now it’s down to only the department director, according to the local newspaper.

In short, youngsters looking for recreational outlets in “The Hub City” during this long hot summer will find slim pickings.

The Main Street Recreation Center has been shut down and youth athletic leagues have been canceled, among other cutbacks.

“It seems the kids have been pushed aside,” the paper quotes the recreation director as saying.

It’s a pity, she added, noting that this is the first year Belen “had enough teams to do a full coed softball team.”

 We’re talking here about everyday life in cities and towns, large and small, and people whose lives are diminished because a combination of indifference and incompetence and greed was allowed free range over this country and its economy for more than a decade.

Meanwhile, back in the nation’s capitol, those who were responsible for the disaster remain disinclined to accept responsibility for their mess or for cleaning it up.