Happy days are gone again in City Politics

. March 25, 2020.

We were supposed to have the unofficial results of the Ohio primary election to digest and regurgitate. The race to replace John Tharp as LC Sheriff should have taken several precious column inches. The fate of Toledo’s Issue One should have taken most of the rest. Plus maybe some musings on the rush to replace outgoing LC Dem Party Chair Kurt Young.

And then Covid-19 came along and stole our precious thunder. Primary? Postponed until at least sometime in June. New Dem Party Chair? On hold until at least sometime in July.
What’s a lonely and quarantined political column to do?

Feeling sick

Writing about the virus seems too obvious, and too facile. So here goes. Stay at home, if you can, or if the mass layoff at your gig of choice forces you to stay home. Fine. Social distance, cough into your elbow, wash your hands, don’t touch your face. Great.

Slowing the spread of the virus makes good sense from a public health perspective. Cool heads have prevailed to help phase in the proper response.

Still, mass layoffs at bars and restaurants due to their forced closures are rough. Especially for the local places we love so much. These places generally have thin margins in good times. Their very existence is now being threatened.

The workers who live paycheck to paycheck, that is to say, most of ‘em, face eviction, default on loans and credit cards, and the inability to buy basic necessities. When will it get back to normal? No one can say.

No sick days, no paid time off, no savings. An uncertain and perilous future, left to the vagaries of a community which cares but is also devastated. A social safety-net infrastructure not designed to catch so many, so fast.

And, hard as it is to believe, that’s not the worst of it.

Budget freefall

The privations of the Great Recession are not that far in the rear view mirror. It was only a bit over a decade ago that the local economy went into the loo, where it stayed for years. The major employers were facing bankruptcy, and the City budget was tanked.

The last few years of economic growth have brought about a T-Town turnaround. Unemployment has been low, albeit in some cases because folks are working multiple jobs to get by. Downtown has been rejuvenated. City coffers have been as fat as ever before.

We have chronicled the Wade administration’s response to such good financial times. Spend, spend, and consider spending some more. We’re livin’ high on the hog, let the good times roll!

In the blink of a virus gone viral, all that is now gone.

As businesses shutter, unemployment is expected to explode into the double digits faster than you can say coronavirus. The City’s main source of general fund income, income tax revenue, will dry up faster than you can say social distancing. And the city budget, hamstrung by what in recent days can be viewed as profligate spending, has nowhere to go but sideways.

The crash, we predict, will be fast as the budget tanks, and will reverberate throughout T-Town.

Even if Issue One eventually passes, with its increased taxes, the promised panacea will never materialize. If Issue One doesn’t pass, hoo-boy, we in trouble. And the County and the State of Ohio will be in the same fiscal boat, as sales taxes will plummet with business closures and “stay at home” orders.

That’s not to mention what might happen to city services as essential city employees get sick.

Back to the City budget. By Charter, Toledo City Council had until March thirty-one to act. But Council passed the City’s twenty twenty budget in early March in order to account for Issue One. That was just before the bottom started to fall out. The budget was predicated upon a continued growth in tax revenue. The Council and, in fairness, no one else, foresaw the mass layoffs and dwindling revenue now staring us in the face.

It’s here. Let’s hope the powers dat be are working fast and furious to ameliorate the coming fiscal cliff. Otherwise, stop the train, please, we wanna get off.