44 states and the District of Columbia project budget shortfalls that will total $125 billion for fiscal year 2012, according to Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. The Center further notes that, "it appears increasingly likely that due to declining federal assistance, fiscal year 2012 will be more difficult than 2010 or 2011" and 'Assuming that economic activity declines by one dollar that states cut spending or raise taxes, and based on the rule of thumb that a one percentage point loss of GDP costs the economy 1 million jobs, state shortfalls could cost the economy 850,000 jobs next year." The fragile sate of public sector employment was underscored by U.S. Department of Labor survey that reported the loss of 30,000 public sector jobs in February on top of the previous 10,000 jobs that were lost in January, 2011..
The continued insistence upon self-destructive fiscal austerity policies by Republicans and their corporate sponsors, and their inability to grasp basic principles of macro-economic theory - such as the need fiscal policy -i.e., "pump-priming"- to offset a pronounced lack of demand in the private sector - or that full employment will increase tax revenues - ensure that the hemorrhaging of jobs and revenue at the state and local level will continue. In addition, the craven capitulation of the Obama administration Congressional Democrats to the austerity demands of right-wing economic australopithecenes has exacerbated the plight of the states, local governments and their employees and ensured that the deleterious effects of this Great Recession will remain with us until the foreseeable future.
The question then becomes, is there an alternative to the kinds of disastrous cost-cutting measures endorsed by Governors Christie, Daniels, Kasich and Walker that would destroy public unions and also remove the safety-net from millions of our most vulnerable citizens - the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, and those without medical insurance? Is there a program that could actually create public sector jobs while simultaneously reducing the cost of state and local government payrolls that progressives could unite around?
The United States Census Bureau reports that there are, at present, 87,576 units of local government. These units include city and town governments, counties, library districts, and special commissions. In addition, more than 15,00 of these units consist of educational districts.Each of these 87,575 local units, in turn, is headed by a chief administrator, a county executive, a mayor, or a superintendent of schools. They, in turn, are assisted by scores of highly paid managers, assistant mangers, advisors, and others.
What if these units of local government were consolidated? What if local school districts were merged or combined into regional or statewide systems as is common in European democracies? What if the thousands upon thousands of cites and towns were required to metropolitanize? Would we be better or worse off?
It is clear beyond peradventure that, as a result regional consolidation, there would be a number of immediate, positive benefits. First the revenue base for cities, towns and school districts would be significantly enhanced. Second, the positions of thousands of redundant, highly-paid supervisors, managers and local and county bureaucrats could be eliminated and the savings on their salaries redistributed to create additional jobs for police, firefighters, librarians, teachers, etc. Third, consolidation of local governments would augment the political power of then newly consolidated districts at the state legislatures and make them less vulnerable to the power of lobbyists and other special interests. (As of 2007, 14,826 registered lobbyists spent $2.86 billion to shape policies and legislation favorable to the interests of their individual clients, according to Center for Responsive Politics). Lastly, as a consequence, consolidation would also make these reorganized regional governments and districts more accountable and transparent.
Contrary to the prevailing conventional wisdom, these 87,000 units of local government, given the low participation of voters, the lack of accountability and media coverage, and the pernicious influence special interests - particularly the real estate lobby and oil and gas cartel - does little to promote democracy. Rather, the diffusion and distribution of political power within the political system of the United States--which reflects the fears which the Founders shared concerning concentrated power--has today resulted in something profoundly different than what they anticipated. It has created its own antithesis: rule by oligarchs and corporate plutocrats in which the rights of the some individuals are accorded a greater protection than the rights of others.
It is long past the time to reform local government and, in the process, protect and expand opportunities for citizens to be employed in public service. It is not only good politics, but good economics. It will also serve as a counter-weight to the myopic and self-serving views of right-wing Republicans who want to thwart the ability of government to regulate in the public interests and to reign-in the misdeeds of the powerful corporate interest whose political agenda is now uncritically supported by Republican office-holders throughout the country.