I’ve spent my entire political career fighting for less government spending. But we’re not in a normal time, and the conventional political arguments just don’t fit this moment.
The revenue losses states are facing from the coronavirus pandemic are unrivaled in American history. According to a recent NBC News survey, these fiscal crises extend across geography, size and the partisan makeup of state leadership. Even fiscally conservative states like Georgia, Florida and Texas also face losses in the billions. This is not a red state or blue state issue. It is unquestionably a red, white and blue pandemic.
The revenue losses states are projected to face are more than double what we experienced during the Great Recession, when general fund revenues declined by 11.6 percent over a two-year period. After that, states took meaningful steps to better prepare for unanticipated fiscal crises. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, a significant majority of states have higher rainy day fund levels now than they had before the Great Recession. Even in this better financial position, no amount of fiscal prudence could have fully prepared any state for the scope of this challenge.
Without relief for these revenue shortfalls, state and local governments have begun the process of making drastic cuts to essential services. Nearly 15 million Americans are employed by state and local governments. If ever there was a time when we’ve relied on these workers, it’s now. Teachers, law enforcement officers and emergency medical service workers are not asking for handouts. They’re on the front lines of this crisis doing the essential work that’s keeping our nation afloat.
Protecting states from major cuts is also key to ensuring a strong economic recovery for our country. We’re all depending on basic government services like public safety, public transportation, education and access to health care to get people back to work and reopen safely.
On top of the potential devastating impact of cuts to essential services, the last thing businesses need right now is more unemployment. As our economy begins to reopen and workers head back to work, another round of layoffs would devastate the recovery before it even gets off the ground.
Nor would forcing states to lay off workers be a fiscally responsible choice. Given the lack of other readily available jobs during this economic crisis, state workers would simply swell the unemployment rolls and strain an already overburdened system.
Federal funds shouldn’t be used to prop up failing pension systems or to protect bloated bureaucracies. But proposals in Congress like the bipartisan SMART Act have already outlined common-sense guardrails to make sure that doesn’t happen. Temporary aid can’t solve long-term fiscal challenges, but they can provide state and local governments a critical lifeline while the economy gets back on its feet.
While we protect states, we should also be working together to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure. By putting to use untapped resources in the public and the private sector, we can rebuild our nation’s infrastructure and put Americans back to work. As chairman of the National Governors Association, I launched a national infrastructure initiative last July to push for action on this issue at the federal level. This is a unique opportunity to ensure workers have the high-speed internet access necessary for remote work and commuters who can no longer take public transportation have functional roads and bridges.
It is encouraging news that President Trump, as well as Republicans and Democrats in Congress, have all expressed some form of support for aid to the states. And nearly everyone — from President Trump to Speaker Pelosi to former President Obama — have been talking about fixing America’s crumbling infrastructure for years. We can drop the political games, and get this done for the American people.
The real divide in America today isn’t public vs. private or red vs. blue. It’s all of us vs. nature.
In past times of war, natural disaster and economic depression, Americans have put aside partisan bickering to find common ground on the urgent challenge right in front of us. In that spirit, Congress came together to swiftly pass the CARES Act to deliver aid for America’s businesses and workers. That is what is required of us once again. We cannot stop now.
We will overcome this virus and get our economy back on track. But it’s going to take the full might of the American people — mobilizing every part of our economic engine — to do it.
Larry Hogan, a Republican, is the governor of Maryland and the Chairman of the National Governors Association.
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