BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., says he is pleased to hear Congress is finally going to consider compensating cities and counties for the loss of revenues caused by the coronavirus.
Sales tax revenues to expected to plummet because of the tailspin the economy is in. Without extra funding from the federal government, Treviño argues, essential services such as police, emergency management and public health will be at risk.
“It was very concerning to me why there was any hesitation on the part of Congress, whether it was the House or the Senate, and it appears it was on the Senate, that they did not want to consider the impact COVID-19 has had on local governments, cities and counties,” Treviño told Ron Whitlock Reports.
“The reality is that the local governments, cities, counties and the state, have expended a large amount of money in numerous areas, law enforcement, first responders, health, and the provision of regular government services to keep providing those services to our constituents.”
Treviño was alarmed at a recent comment by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that states be allowed to go bankrupt.
“When there was discussion a few weeks ago about, oh, well, we will let the states go bankrupt, that to me indicated a lack of either concern or understanding of the reality of what local governments do. We do not want to stop providing police, fire protection, emergency response protection, during a pandemic, or at any time.”
Treviño is a former mayor of the largest city in the Rio Grande Valley – Brownsville. He said cities and counties do not want to cut back on other services, such as trash pick up. He said many services provided by local governments are likely taken for granted.
“Injecting additional money into the economic stream, keeping people in their jobs and providing, potentially, infrastructure projects is necessary,” Treviño said.
He argued that in the Valley, major infrastructure projects, such as improving roads, bridges, drainage systems and international ports of entry would go along way.
“I hope it happens soon because all of those potential possibilities are a win-win, both at the national, state and local level.”
Perspective of the National Association of Counties
Earlier this week, U.S. House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita M. Lowey said House Democrats will soon release a proposal for the next phase of relief for the coronavirus pandemic.
Lowey said the bill will include two separate yet equal funds for counties and cities and will provide vital relief to address both lost revenue and increased expenditures as the result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The news pleased the National Association of Counties (NACo).
“We are very grateful for Chairwoman Lowey’s proposal. It reflects the essential frontline responsibilities of our nation’s county governments in providing vital public health, safety and economic recovery assistance,” the group’s executive director Matthew Chase said.
“This crisis is wreaking unprecedented fiscal impacts on America’s local governments, at a time when our most vulnerable residents and small businesses need our immediate assistance. County revenues are plummeting while costs are skyrocketing.”
Chase said the COVID-19 pandemic could reduce county budgets by at least $144 billion, resulting in major job losses and service reductions in public health, business support and overall community services.
“Counties are committed to working in a bipartisan fashion to secure direct, flexible and equitable funding for counties of all sizes, with the shared goal of keeping our residents healthy and our communities safe and vibrant,” Chase said.
“We thank Speaker Pelosi, Chairwoman Lowey and Leader Schumer for their commitment to local governments. We are encouraged by lawmakers in both parties are working together to strengthen federal funding and greater flexibility for county governments of all sizes across the country in response to COVID-19.”
Chase added: “Counties are on the front lines of addressing the far-reaching health, safety and economic consequences of COVID-19. We urge the administration and Congress to unite in supporting relief efforts on the ground.”
There are 3,069 counties in the United States. According to NACo, counties are led by 40,000 elected county officials and a workforce of 3.6 million public servants. The association says counties support over 1,900 local public health departments, nearly 1,000 public hospitals and critical access clinics, more than 800 long-term care facilities and 750 behavioral health centers.
Additionally, county governments are responsible for emergency operations centers and 911 services, court and jail management, public safety and emergency response, protective services for children, seniors and veterans, and the “last of the first responders” with coroners and medical examiners, NACo states.
Letting one’s guard down
In his interview with Ron Whitlock Reports, Judge Treviño also voiced concerns about Valley residents “letting their guard down” when it comes to social distancing.
Asked if he thought more people were failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines, Treviño said: “Absolutely, and that was my concern when the governor announced that he was taking away a lot of the local authority that we have as a county or as a municipality.”
By way of an example, Treviño cited activity on South Padre Island.
“We saw it this past weekend with people traveling out to the island. The week before, while there was crowds at the beaches, the reports that we received was that everybody was abiding by the social distancing and many of them, if not all, were utilizing some kind of facial covering. This past weekend we heard the exact opposite. It was kind of like the frustration that had built up was released at one weekend and everybody forgot what we had been working towards.”
Treviño said it would dangerous to think the worst of the coronavirus pandemic has been and gone.
“The last thing we want anybody thinking is that we are past this virus, past this pandemic. Because we are not. If people take that approach, and I have heard this also in the stores, people out shopping not wearing masks, or employees not utilizing masks, and practicing social distancing, we are going to see those numbers spike relatively soon,” Treviño said.
Treviño said he believes the “great majority” will continue to abide by social distancing guidelines.
“But, unfortunately, those that let their guard down… we will see those numbers creep up again.”
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