If 2011 is hinting at a national recovery, there is little sign of it in statehouses across the country. States that already have raided their reserve funds, relied on borrowing or accounting gimmicks, and imposed deep cuts on schools, parks and public transit systems no longer can protect key services in the face of another round of multibillion dollar deficits. As governors begin to roll out their budget proposals and legislatures convene this month, they do so amid a sputtering economic recovery and predictions of slow growth for years to come. State and local governments face lackluster revenue projections, worries from Wall Street over looming debt and the loss of federal stimulus money.
Republican and Democratic governors alike are detailing across-the-board pain for education, health care, transportation, public safety and other programs. Some say the year of reckoning for state and local governments is at hand, with calls for structural changes that could radically shift expectations of what services government provides. Many believe the year ahead will be the most challenging in memory, with consequences for those who depend on government funding.