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Welcome to post-stimulus America

The New York Times sends a postcard:

Plenty of businesses and governments furloughed workers this year, but Hawaii went further — it furloughed its schoolchildren. Public schools across the state closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year to save money, giving students the shortest academic year in the nation and sending working parents scrambling to find care for them.

Many transit systems have cut service to make ends meet, but Clayton County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, decided to cut all the way, and shut down its entire public bus system. Its last buses ran on March 31, stranding 8,400 daily riders.

Even public safety has not been immune to the budget ax. In Colorado Springs, the downturn will be remembered, quite literally, as a dark age: the city switched off a third of its 24,512 streetlights to save money on electricity, while trimming its police force and auctioning off its police helicopters. ... By the Police Department’s own calculations, there is a 23 percent chance that all patrol units in Colorado Springs will be busy when someone calls the police.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 6, 2010; 2:14 PM ET
 
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Comments

"sending working parents scrambling to find care for them." Its sad that the child care problems with shortening the school year is emphasized while the learning that will not occur barely gets a mention. It shows how little the US actually values education, despite all protestations to the contrary...

Posted by: srw3 | August 6, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

and as a result of all this voters are set to elect more small gov't, anti-stimulus, tax-cutting Republicans

Posted by: Quant | August 6, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

If you want to look at the bright side, this helps make the argument about the value of stimulus, not that anyone on the right will acknowledge this.

Knowing you were right is cold comfort, however, when these travesties become the norm.

Posted by: KBfromNC | August 6, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Furlough Fridays were and still are a mess. For those workers involved, it beats being unemployed and without health/dental and other fringe benefits. Not as good for consumers of public services, as to be expected but most people realize the tradeoffs.

About the Hawaii public school system, it's not all bad news. Surprisingly, the statewide standardized test scores for the school year actually improved compared to last year. Another surprise is Hawaii being one of the finalists for the Race to the Top.

Posted by: tuber | August 6, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I can think of plenty of ways for states like Hawaii to save money that doesn't involve closing their schools. Just because lawmakers there and in other strapped states make unwise decisions in dealing with their budget problems doesn't mean the rest of us should subsidize them ad infinitum. If the voters of Hawaii disagree with those decisions, they can elect lawmakers that will make better ones.

Posted by: bgmma50 | August 6, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

And there's more than a whiff of gamesmanship about all this. Odd how the cuts chosen by lawmakers in those states are precisely the ones most calculated to scare the bejeezus out of their voters. Perhaps they think they can squeeze more tax money out of their beleaguered constituents/

But on the other hand, if what tuber says is correct, perhaps they ought to make the 4 day school week permanent!

Posted by: bgmma50 | August 6, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Agree with bgmma50 re: Washington Monument strategy. Why don't they just fire teachers and increase class sizes? Oh right, unions. How many state-level public sector problems would be solved if states could fire/reduce wages at will?

Posted by: theo2709 | August 6, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

"Plenty of businesses and governments furloughed workers this year, but Hawaii went further — it furloughed its schoolchildren. Public schools across the state closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year to save money, giving students the shortest academic year in the nation and sending working parents scrambling to find care for them."

There is always the option to cut salaries. If you have to take measures such as this to keep the schools open, then your city is probably bankrupt. Declare bankruptcy, nullify union contracts and slash compensation to levels to where you can still afford to provide services. Outsource if need be.

"Even public safety has not been immune to the budget ax. In Colorado Springs, the downturn will be remembered, quite literally, as a dark age: the city switched off a third of its 24,512 streetlights to save money on electricity, while trimming its police force and auctioning off its police helicopters. ... By the Police Department’s own calculations, there is a 23 percent chance that all patrol units in Colorado Springs will be busy when someone calls the police."

This was also unnecessary. The answer is in here:

"Community business leaders have jumped into the budget debate, some questioning city spending on what they see as "Ferrari"-level benefits for employees and high salaries in middle management. Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin wrote an open letter asking why the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each."

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_14303473

Posted by: justin84 | August 6, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Just FYI, Hawaii spends about $13,500 per student on public education.

Posted by: tomtildrum | August 6, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Ezra stop whining. NJ resolved a budget issue that was much worse than Hawaii's. And it did so without "laying off schoolchildren". Your partisan jabs are getting more and more transparent and desperate the closer we get to November.

how bout doing an true story on Chris Christie instead of just a blurb in Reconcilation.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 6, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

Closing the schools makes no sense. Teachers should be on salary, exempt from overtime, just like other real workers.

We got fat on salaries that are too high, and are caught in one of the worst sticky wage situations in history. The obvious response to unemployment is lower wages, but with so many people on negotiated public employee union contracts, we are stuck.

Posted by: staticvars | August 7, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Going Backward When We Should Be Going Forward

"NO WAY!!!" That was my reaction when I read in the Wall Street Journal that counties, cities, and towns have decided instead of ponying up the money to fix decaying roads that they'll simply rip them up and revert them to gravel. Then I read in the New York Times that Colorado Springs is turning off a third of its street lights. Clayton County, a suburb of Atlanta, completely shut down its bus system, stranding 84,000 daily riders. Public schools in Hawaii shut down 17 Fridays last year. In Colorado Springs, where they've drastically cut their police force, estimates show a 23% chance that all patrol units will be busy when someone calls the police. Again, all I can think is "NO WAY!!!"

Now I understand the necessity of fiscal prudence. But if we destroy American businesses' ability to compete (by unpaving the roads they use to deliver their wares, for example) or we make our cities unattractive for global companies (by shutting off streetlights, for example), or we fail to educate the next generation of American competitors, then we are destroying the government's revenue base - making everything worse in the end.

So let's get together and think about some innovative ways to rebuild, maintain, and extend the kind of infrastructure we need to compete even when governments' coffers are bare. Some ideas? What about public-private-partnerships? Or demand management (including, for example, use-based pricing structures). Or, as Paul Krugman has suggested, selling Treasury bonds and distributing the proceeds to cash-strapped state and local governments. Or the creation of a national infrastructure bank that would provide low-cost loans for public or private entities to build and operate critical infrastructure.

I certainly don't have all the answers, but the point is that there are things we can do to be fiscally prudent and protect America's competitiveness. If we don't evoke that quintessentially American "we can do anything" attitude now I do fear that we will be, as Krugman suggested, "on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere."

http://www.arizonaic.org/blog/275-going-backward-when-we-should-be-going-forward

Posted by: MyAIC | August 10, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

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