By Wesley Harper
Municipalities across Nevada are facing crippling budget projections after the economic shutdown to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal aid that has flowed from Washington cannot be used to offset revenue loss. Aid has been intended for costs directly related to fighting the virus or to help businesses maintain payroll or to help residents, but all funding has been specifically off limits for cities to recover financial losses from the shutdown.
Without help, there will be dire consequences for cities and their residents. Cities are projecting shortfalls of nearly 35 percent. It is likely that each aspect of municipal budgets will be affected. This will likely impact public safety, fire and rescue, emergency management, youth programs, senior programs, sanitation services, and more.
Congress is currently considering the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800). It would provide $375 billion over two years in direct federal funding to counties, cities, towns, and villages to offset the debilitating revenue losses from the containment and management of the COVID-19 pandemic. If the Act is funded at its current level, it will provide the funds needed to offset the revenue loss by Nevada’s cities and it will save municipal leaders from making painful and impossible decisions.
Congress should remember that Nevada took a critical and pre-emptive step to slow the pandemic by closing our casinos statewide on March 18, which slowed the spread of the virus throughout the region and across the country. The move shattered our economy, which is heavily reliant on sales, gaming, and room tax revenue. It was the best decision for our State and our Country and now we need our federal government’s support.
Relief for cities translates directly into quality of life for residents. This money can save lives. Without investment in our local governments, our communities will be less safe, less healthy, less prosperous.
Some Republican senators have suggested that providing aid to cities amounts to giving cities a bailout, as if the financial distress that our municipalities face was the result of some mismanagement. This is a mischaracterization. Our cities’ budget woes are directly attributable to the shutdown of the economy. Prior to the shutdown, most of our municipalities had healthy budgets, and many were enjoying a surplus. Cities are the most trusted form of government and they create the atmosphere for businesses to thrive and they most directly affect the quality of life of their residents. Our cities have done and continue to do their part to combat the pandemic. It is time for the federal government to be a partner to cities and provide the direct aid required for our cities to recover.
The Nevada League of Cities & Municipalities, together with the other state municipal leagues throughout the country, is working under the leadership of the National League of Cities in support of the Cities Are Essential Campaign to ensure that every city receives the federal aid it needs to successfully overcome this budget crisis.
This opinion column was submitted by Wesley Harper, executive director of the Nevada League of Cities & Municipalities.