WASHINGTON – Washington has responded to the favorable turn in economic news with enthusiasm. When the third quarter gross domestic product showed growth of 7.2 percent and the monthly unemployment rate dropped from 6.1 to 6 percent, euphoria gripped the capital.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the struggles of families, communities and whole states continue unabated. The celebrations and high-fives up and down Pennsylvania Avenue are not to be found beyond the Beltway.
Let me take you on a tour of the country, thanks to my favorite Web site, Stateline.org, a nonpartisan scan of newspapers in all 50 states. This is a sampling, which you could duplicate in any week's news.
Alaska is facing a budget deficit of “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Dick Cattanach, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska, tells the Anchorage Daily News, “We have no hope of balancing the budget the way we are going.”
Arizona's Joint Legislative Budget Committee staff reports that “without smoke and mirrors, fund transfers and other gimmicks used to balance the 2004 budget, revenues for fiscal 2005 will be about $961 million less than anticipated spending,” reports the Arizona Capitol Times.
In California, the Associated Press reports that “to solve the state's budget problem and help pay for new school construction, voters may face a March ballot featuring more than $30 billion in proposed bonds – by far the largest amount ever put forward on any statewide ballot.” Meantime, doctors are suing to stop a 5 percent cut in reimbursements for services to 6.5 million Medicaid patients. The suit says the new cut “is being imposed on a system already in crisis.” And the state transportation commission says lower gas tax receipts mean a five-year moratorium on new highway or transit projects to relieve traffic congestion.
In Connecticut, Republican Gov. John Rowland tells AP, “We don't see the revenues to the state picking up until next year. We're not going to have any easy sailing budget-wise for at least two years.”
In Georgia, the health care program for the poor and disabled could run out of money this spring, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, “because $148 million was cut from the budget as part of an agreement to help balance the state's $16 billion spending plan.” Already enacted cuts mean “removing thousands of low-income Georgians from the program and eliminating some benefits and services for others.”
In Illinois, a single day's news includes an increase in fares on Chicago Transit Authority trains and buses to erase a $30 million deficit; a 16 percent increase in tuition at the state university; and a lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to take $125 million from a state-chartered environmental foundation to help balance the budget. He is also trying to sell the state's Chicago office building to raise cash.
In Indiana, Democratic Gov. Joe Kernan led officials on a tour of prisons housing 23,000 people – 7,000 over capacity. With the state facing a deficit of at least $810 million, The Indianapolis Star reports, two new prisons capable of holding 2,300 people cannot be opened because there is no money to pay for staff.
In Iowa, the AP says Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack is rescinding a $1.6 million cut in the Department of Public Safety, because of his discomfort at learning “there are fewer troopers on the road than there were 30 years ago.” Vilsack said he would have to cut elsewhere to make it up, but could not say where.
In Michigan, the AP says Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm is touring the state, seeking ideas about where to cut spending and deal with a $920 million shortfall. She is raising private money to pay her travel expenses.
I am barely halfway through the alphabet – but out of space. One more example. The Houston Chronicle reports that in President Bush's home state of Texas, 54,000 children have been dropped from the federal-state health insurance program under new regulations from Austin.
This is just a partial sampling, but it suggests that the celebrations of economic recovery in Washington may be as premature as that “Mission Accomplished” banner hung behind Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln to hail the end of major combat in Iraq.
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When I wrote in my Veterans Day column about the benefits of national service and said “no one in the leadership” has been in the military, I was referring to the House of Representatives, whose membership had been the focus of the entire piece. Some readers thought I was making a broader statement and complained that I was ignoring the Air Force service of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle or the Texas Air National Guard service of President Bush. I apologize for any misunderstanding.
David Broder is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group. His address is 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. David Broder's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.