Right now, most state governments are trying to figure out how to get through these next few weeks. Many states face a still-growing tide of Coronavirus patients. Those with a declining rate of new infections face the incredibly important decision on when to allow more people back to work, and how many industries will be reopened.
It’s going to be a couple of years before things get back to normal. But as states settle into an uneasy interregnum between full-crisis mode and normalcy, they’re going to face three new realities.
State Budgets Have Been Eviscerated
State governments are mostly reliant on tax receipts to fund their expenses. But many businesses have been shut down, and many, many people have been laid off. This is going to translate into a multi-billion dollar hole in state budgets for 2020 and 2021. As of yet, this hole hasn’t been plugged by the federal government. If it isn’t addressed soon, governments are going to have to make some extremely painful choices on what to cut.
The Government Work-From-Home Revolution Just Happened
Generally speaking, the public sector was many years behind the private sector in work-from-home policies. Fewer jobs were approved for remote work. Even jobs that were “approved” for work from home were often done in the office, either because someone along the chain of command wanted it that way or because employees felt they would risk losing promotion opportunities if they weren’t in the office each day.
That all changed in the last 45 days. This wasn’t how any agency would want to roll out work-from-home policies, and it certainly wasn’t how employees wanted to first experience it. But some people have undoubtedly been very successful at completing their jobs while working remotely. Once the emergency has passed, one legacy is likely to be less restrictive policies for many employees regarding their constant presence in the office.
Few People Believe Government is Irrelevant Anymore
Most citizens didn’t interact with their government very much before COVID-19. Except for public schools, the few times they did interact with government officials weren’t pleasant; paying taxes, getting a driver’s license, getting pulled over for speeding, or getting searched at an airport. To many people, government was a benign nuisance that cost a lot of money and mostly did things for other people.
That’s all changed now. Many people watch government officials talk daily about what agency employees are doing at breakneck speeds to respond to one of the greatest disasters in US history. Most are grateful for their hard work. Some citizens are resentful of the restrictions being placed on their lives. But if anyone entered this crisis thinking their government didn’t impact their lives, they probably don’t feel that way now. Hopefully, this will lead to an increased level of civic engagement, if only for a little while.
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