Eau Claire County’s news about sales tax revenue is encouraging. While it was down, as anticipated, the worst of the predictions didn’t come true.
There is no doubting local, state and national revenues will take a hit because of the pandemic, the spring’s shutdowns and the economy’s rebound. The fast pace of job returns earlier in the year seems to have slowed somewhat, and a full recovery depends heavily on when a vaccine is widely distributed.
There are some hard decisions coming. Local governments will have to fill budget gaps that are probably going to be at least six figures. State and federal revenues will be down by much more.
As the election season progresses, we’d like to hear candidates speak about what they think should be done to fill those gaps. This isn’t a surprise. It was clear more than six months ago that the economic damage would be considerable and that it would spill over into government revenues. Candidates have had more than enough time to put together coherent answers to questions.
Where do candidates think cuts should be made? Should there be state or federal aid to smaller governments? How should that be paid for?
If there are cuts proposed to education, what areas should they be in? Will it target primary and secondary education, or will it come in the form of cuts to collegiate support? If it’s the latter, what effects will that have on already spiraling levels of student debt?
If candidates are unable to speak effectively to these issues now there’s no reason to think they will suddenly be able to do so when they take office. Basic economic literacy is not too much to ask of candidates, nor is it unreasonable to think they should be considering ways to moderate the effects of shortfalls everyone knows are coming.
It’s hard to say right now what the final fiscal fallout for governments will be. That depends in part on what the fall and winter bring. If, as some are predicting, the pandemic accelerates significantly and a return to the lockdowns of this past spring becomes necessary, the damage will be greater than that sustained by a continuation of the current levels.
Both the fact that we don’t know how the next several months will pan out and the better-than-expected revenues point to the same underlying point: we don’t really know what the end result of any of this will be. That uncertainty makes predictions difficult. It makes it harder for individuals to plan, too. Uncertainty produces a different kind of stress, and we’re all feeling its effects.
That uncertainty is not a pass for those in positions of responsibility making the effort to plan as best they are able. Those entrusted with leadership at the local, state and federal levels all need to show they are able to plan for an uncertain future. We understand if things change and plans need to be altered. We do not understand a lack of planning.
The old saying advises people to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. That makes a lot of sense to us right now. We need leadership that will plan for how it will address the worst-case possibilities over the next several months, while hoping things turn out better.
It’s rare that a single issue that is not — or at least should not be — a political issue is so dominant less than two months before an election. That’s the position our nation is in, though.
It would be unreasonable for us to expect candidates to have a plan to end the pandemic beyond letting scientists and experts work as swiftly and responsibly as possible toward a vaccine. But it is not unreasonable to expect them to be able to lay out how they plan to cope with the challenges that will remain until the pandemic ends.