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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Expect lots of government layoffs at state, local level

By Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
Here's another headwind for a sputtering job market: State and local governments plan many more layoffs to close wide budget gaps.
Up to 400,000 workers could lose jobs in the next year as states, counties and cities grapple with lower revenue and less federal funding, says Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com.

The development could slow an already lackluster recovery. Friday, the Labor Department said employers cut 125,000 jobs, mostly because 225,000 temporary U.S. Census workers completed their stints. The private sector added 83,000 jobs, fewer then expected, as the jobless rate fell to 9.5% from 9.7%.

Layoffs by state and local governments moderated in June, with 10,000 jobs trimmed. That was down from 85,000 job losses the first five months of the year and about 190,000 since June 2009.

But the pain is likely to worsen. States face a cumulative $140 billion budget gap in fiscal 2011, which began July 1 for most, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

While general-fund tax revenue is projected to rise 3.7% as the economy rebounds in the coming year, it still will be 8%, or $53 billion, below fiscal 2008 levels, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

Meanwhile, federal aid is shrinking. Money for states from the economic stimulus is expected to fall by $55 billion, says the National Governors Association. And the Senate last week failed to pass a measure to provide states $16 billion for extra Medicaid funding, an initiative that would have extended benefits from last year's stimulus. The House approved $25 billion in enhanced Medicaid funding.

Philippa Dunne, who surveys state financial officials for a newsletter, the Liscio Report, says most plan to intensify layoffs the coming year after relying largely on furloughs.

"The downturn has gone on so long, all the low-hanging fruit has been taken," says Scott Pattison, head of the state budget officers group.

Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner expects state and local governments to cut about 200,000 workers this year if Medicaid benefits aren't extended. That's largely why Wells Fargo cut forecasts for third-quarter economic growth to 1.5% from 1.9%.

Even if Congress extendsMedicaid subsidies, Zandi expects 325,000 job cuts the next year, though Vitner says losses could be far less.

Among cuts planned and made:

•New York City is planning 4,500 layoffs, and more if the Medicaid subsidies aren't approved, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

•Washington state would have to chop 6,000 jobs without the Medicaid money.

•The city of Maywood, Calif., laid off all 68 of its employees July 1 and is contracting out police services, partly because of a $450,000 budget deficit.

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