Since the COVID-19 crisis began, tax revenues for state and local governments that provide services like public hospitals, school systems, and bus and subway service have fallen 13 percent. State and local governments have laws requiring balanced budgets, so local politicians are warning of big cuts to services and big layoffs unless the federal government comes to their aid.
But thanks to the bi-partisan bailout of the biggest banks and corporations, the U.S. government has itself run up four trillion dollars of new debt in the last 12 months. Under the pressure of the debt and the growing budget deficit at the federal level, Washington politicians will resist coming up with the money to sustain state services. They will let parks close, school systems lay off teachers, and public health facilities shut down unless we organize massive public protests.
Everyone knows someone who has lost a job or is facing eviction thanks to the way the government has handled the pandemic since last winter. At the same time, the richest 643 billionaires have seen their wealth grow by 850 billion dollars. It would take little more than half of that, $434 billion, to cover the estimated state and local shortfall in state and local revenues for the next two years.
The politicians who tell us that there have to be cutbacks and layoffs like to blame each other for mismanaging the crisis, and indeed there is plenty of blame to go around. But the finger-pointing serves to divert attention away from the only realistic approach to getting us through the crisis, which is to make the rich pay. After all, they’re the ones who have gotten all the money.