Las Vegas Review Journal: Mayors ask Washington for help with virus

May 14, 2020
In The News

WASHINGTON — Mayors said Tuesday they have told Congress and the White House that the coronavirus is “blowing massive holes in our budgets,” and they have asked the federal government for immediate help.

That request came in a conference call just days after state governors also warned that budget shortfalls could force massive furloughs and a loss of services.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, as well as mayors from Las Vegas, Reno and Henderson, have called for federal assistance for states and cities as local officials weigh furloughs and layoffs after huge expenditures to fight COVID-19.

“Our cities are hurting right now,” said Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Kentucky.

He told reporters on a teleconference arranged by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that cities have spent so much on funds to fight the new coronavirus that it is “blowing massive holes in our budgets right now.”

Last week, the National Governors Association asked the federal government for $500 billion in funds.

“The lifesaving measures are having devastating economic implications on Nevada and Gov. Sisolak joins his fellow governors in seeking assistance and funding flexibility from the federal government,” a spokeswoman for the governor said.

Small cities excluded

The mayors have asked for $250 billion for direct assistance from Congress and the Trump administration, apart from the $150 billion that was included in the $2.2 trillion relief package.

They noted that the funds in the last package were for states and large cities to help prepare for the outbreak, and cities with a population of under 500,000 were excluded.

“Lexington will not receive anything from the relief package,” said Kathy Maness, a Lexington, South Carolina, council member and a National League of Cities vice president.

She said cities in 27 of 50 states “don’t have a single municipality that meets the 500,000 population threshold.”

Henderson Mayor Debra March said the loss of tax revenue makes the need critical in Southern Nevada.

“The extended closure of nonessential businesses will have a devastating impact on our economy and the consolidated sales tax, which makes up 44 percent of the city’s general fund revenue,” March said last week.

Nevada’s three Democratic congressional members — Reps. Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee — signed a letter written by Lee last week to drop the 500,000-person minimum from the relief bill.

Lee also has filed legislation to provide $250 billion in aid to cities and municipalities.

Another relief bill expected

Congress is expected to write a fourth coronavirus relief bill when it returns this month or in early May.

Democrats last week blocked a bill sought by Senate Republicans to add $350 billion to the $2.2 trillion relief bill to help fund the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Democrats blocked the bill because it lacked an additional $150 billion for states and cities and $100 billion for hospitals.

But mayors told reporters Tuesday that the money sought by congressional Democrats was not enough to help cities that are facing a budget crisis now.

In Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley said her city has been wracked by a mass shooting last year, tornadoes and now the public health expense of dealing with COVID-19.

Because it is funded by municipal taxes, the city has furloughed 479 of its employees, or 28 percent.

A survey of 2,400 cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found:

— Eighty-eight percent of cities expect a revenue shortfall this year as a result of COVID-19.

— Among cities with populations between 50,000 and 500,000, 98 percent expect a shortfall. Also, 55 percent say furloughing employees will be necessary, and 38 percent expect to lay off workers.

— Fifty-two percent of all cities say budget cuts will impact police and public safety.