Can Municipalities Survive?
BY C.C. Campbell-Rock
President Trump is the reason New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has to layoff city workers. Congress proposed the second CARES ACT but Trump will not sign it until after the election. Now cities must lay off essential workers.
New Orleans is facing a $150 million deficit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, Mayor Cantrell got special permission from the Civil Service Commission. The city implemented an emergency furlough of all city workers for one day a week for the next six pay periods. The furloughs include police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel, part of the city’s 4700-member workforce.
“The bottom line is, the bottom has kind of fallen out. The reality is we are in a fiscal crisis here in the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said during a news conference. “The pandemic has affected the city’s entire workforce. City Hall is not immune.”
“The mayor’s pay will also be subject to the furlough, although Cantrell said she and other key employees would continue to work their regular hours. Gilbert Montano, the mayor’s chief administrative officer, has said each furlough workday would save the city about $1 million, or $6 million total.,” WDSU-TV last week reported.
Eric Hessler, an attorney with the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) expressed concerns about public safety in the wake of the furloughs. “We’re in the midst of a dramatic increase in shootings a dramatic increase in homicides, we’re trying to open the city up and trying to open the city up for tourists and people coming back out to enjoy themselves. I think this is gonna make it much more difficult for the average citizen to want to come here and spend time knowing that you have a cut in police services.”
Indeed, the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee reported that murders, in 2020 were up nearly 50 percent over last year. In 2020 there were 123 murders in September. In September 2019 there were 83.
However, Hessler’s comment about tourism discounts the impact the coronavirus has had on the City of New Orleans and Phase Three restrictions. Phase 3 started on October 3 and limits the types of activities that draw tourists to the city. His statement also begs the question of whether New Orleans is ready for full-blown tourism – given the challenges the city still faces in containing viral spread.
According to City Health Department concerning Phase 3 re-opening guidelines – all businesses and institutions other than those that provide essential services (or have been explicitly listed as exempted for Phase Three), shall remain closed, including but not limited to: Amusement Parks, Music/Concert Halls, Fairs and Festivals, Trade Shows and Arcades, Indoor playground and play centers, Indoor Live Performance Venues, and Second Lines and Parades.
CITIES MUST LAY OFF ESSENTIAL WORKERS
Additionally, the statewide mask mandate remains as does requirements for social distancing. At press time, the City’s COVID-19 Dashboard was reporting a minor increase in COVID cases, 28.8 cases daily, compared to seven days ago, but that number is still below the threshold of 50 cases.
The rate of transmission, however, is increasing and bears watching. “The rate of infection is rising on average compared to five days ago and we are above where we need to be,” according to the City’s Health Department.
Other indicators show promising results. At 1.0% “positive test rates are falling compared to seven days ago and we are still below the threshold. On October 9, 2,198 people were hospitalized. There are 30.31% of beds still available; 366 ICU beds are in use with 30.68% still available, and 134 patients are on ventilators, with 81.49% available. The city’s PPE supply is adequate for five days of treatment. 800 contract tracers are working; and industry guidelines are in place.
Overall, the City of New Orleans is weathering the COVID-19 storm. However, the furloughs will have a severe impact on the city. Unfortunately, given that talks on the federal level for a second CARES package are on again, off again, there currently is no relief in sight. Our city must lay off essential workers.
National Wranglings on Cities
Last week, Donald J. Trump, Sr. called off negotiations, then decided that a stand-along package for the airlines payroll shortfall was what he wanted. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to piecemeal the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package passed by the House which has funding for essential workers, states and cities, unemployed citizens, and small businesses.
By contrast, the package initially put forth by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin included blanket immunity for corporations and no money for states and cities.
Yet, in another flip-flop from the electorally underwater occupant of the White House, news broke last Friday that the White House was set to offer Democrats a $1.8 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package as “President Donald Trump reverses course on stimulus negotiations, telling right-wing broadcaster Rush Limbaugh he wanted to “Go Big.”
The proposal is a $1.8 trillion offer, according to an administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of a negotiation still underway. It is about $200 billion more than the White House’s $1.6 trillion proposal last week.
“Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last week proposed the $1.62 trillion relief bill, which included more funding for state and local governments as well as an extension of federal unemployment benefits at a rate of $400,” according to Lindsey McPherson of Roll Call, who first reported on the details.
Can we do better?
It is still smaller than the $2.2 trillion Democrats most recently offered.
David Plouffe, a former Obama campaign manager said of Trump, “Our nation deserves better than a spray-tanned, drugged up, pitchman for Regeneron.” Trump, for his part, sensing he is heading for a big defeat on November 3, is pulling out all the stops to try to hold on to power. “I would like to see a bigger stimulus package frankly than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering,” he told Limbaugh.
Whatever CARES package emerges from these off and on again negotiations, it’s clear we have a dysfunctional federal system. And any aide provided to cities and states, especially to New Orleans, will be too little, too late. New Orleanians and its essential workers are already suffering from the coronavirus. Now we are feeling the impact of Hurricane Trump. The damage is already done.
Cities must lay off essential workers.