(Note: With legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, this week’s Dispatch is the second in a series of issue-specific session roundups from Progressive States Network highlighting trends in different critical policy areas across the fifty states.)
Lawmakers confronted massive budget shortfalls, persistently high unemployment, and myriad fiscal and economic obstacles during 2011 state legislative sessions. With states still reeling from effects of the economic downturn and with federal investment in state economies receding, lawmakers considered drastic measures to confront budgetary constraints. Though many state revenue outlooks improved slightly in the past few months, partly as a result of tax increases passed in recent years, it was little comfort as states faced collective shortfalls of $103 billion in fiscal year 2012. As sessions progressed, it became painfully apparent that conservative lawmakers were not interested in job creation, economic growth, or support for those who have been hit hardest by the recession, but rather ideologically-driven platforms that sacrificed fiscal sustainability and the economic security of millions of families for the benefit of the affluent and huge corporations.
Massive Cuts to Education and Health Care Contribute to Job Losses
Utilizing precarious economic and fiscal circumstances, newly-empowered conservatives pursued a damaging agenda in state legislatures this year. The brunt of the cuts fell on the backs of nurses, teachers, firefighters, and vulnerable populations. Conservatives proved they were willing to compromise economic recovery, job growth, public safety, and the needs of children and the elderly all with an eye toward enriching the already affluent and reducing government support for an ailing economy.
States Pursuing Massive Reductions to Important Public Structures, Contributing to Job Loss
Even as some states cut programs that benefit the middle class and working families this year, many of the same states increased support for corporations and the rich. To compound the largely regressive policies enacted this session, lawmakers have looked further toward privatization.
Economic Research Indicates the Detrimental Impact of Cuts
Contrary to flawed right-wing fiscal ideology, research has shown that cuts to major programs are socially and fiscally detrimental, especially in a time of economic pressures. A recent Center for American Progress (CAP) study indicates that states that have made the largest reductions to spending have also lost the most jobs.
Targeted Revenue Generation to Invest in Public Structures and Respond to Shortfalls
Despite the overwhelming cuts that many legislatures enacted, there were a number of states that pursued some form of revenue generation to alleviate fiscal pressures. Further, many states saw significant victories that advanced the economic security of middle class.
Progressives Championing Accountability to Protect Taxpayers
Progressive lawmakers also championed efforts in 2011 to augment accountability and transparency of state spending. In May, Oregon state lawmakers unanimously approved a bill to provide increased transparency of state spending on economic development subsidies. The victory in Oregon mirrored legislative movement across the states to increase transparency of state budgets.
Conclusion: Rebuilding Prosperity
The results of 2011 legislative sessions demonstrate that the dire fiscal and economic circumstances states continue to confront require policy responses from lawmakers that will ensure states can continue provide essential services, make critical investments in long-term growth areas and public structures, support working and middle-class families who have been disproportionately hit by the impact of the downturn, and ensure that all taxpayers are contributing their fair share.
For an extensive review of progressive tax and budget policies, voters' attitudes, and messaging, please see PSN's Blueprint for Economic Security: Rebuilding Prosperity and Messaging for Government Action in an Economic Downturn .