By Jon Kuhl
Living in Washington, it was hard to miss the effects of the 16-day government shutdown. Metro cars that are normally packed suddenly became spacious (The Washington Post reported a 20% drop in ridership during the shutdown), and busy friends who work for the federal government were abruptly homebound with nothing but time on their hands. To the credit of several of my friends and other furloughed federal workers, many spent a significant portion of their time off volunteering, not hanging around in their PJs as I likely would have been tempted to do.
While the impact on DC was dramatic, the effects were no less serious in other parts of the country. According to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, each day of the shutdown amounted to $76 million in lost visitor spending—a huge loss for states that rely on park tourism revenue.
With federal dollars accounting for approximately one-third of total state spending, many state programs were forced to cut back. In Arkansas, 673 workers were laid off according to the Associated Press. And in Missouri, 200 maintenance employees of the Missouri National Guard were furloughed. Feeling the effects in South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley blasted federal lawmakers of both parties, saying “You send people to D.C. to work. You don’t send them to shut something down… I am frustrated with both the Republicans and the Democrats.”
Luckily, in the eleventh hour before the debt ceiling was reached, a deal was struck to reopen the federal government and avoid defaulting on the nation’s financial obligations. The deal is only temporary, however, with government operations funded through Jan. 15, 2014, and the debt ceiling raised until Feb. 7, 2014. If you’re looking for more details on the deal, NCSL has a comprehensive summary.
With only a few weeks before we risk going through a similar crisis, NCSL President Senator Bruce Starr (R-Ore.) implored federal policymakers to get their act together. “The National Conference of State Legislatures calls on Congress and the administration to use the next few weeks to develop a long-term agreement in order to provide stability and prevent another shutdown.” Indeed, states rely on fiscal stability from Washington in order to formulate their own budgets.
After the shutdown ended last week, the financial ratings agency Standard and Poor’s estimated that the U.S. economy had taken a $24 billion hit and “shaved at least 0.6 percent off annualized fourth-quarter 2013 GDP growth.” In spite of all the bad news, I did have to chuckle when I came across a picture a friend of mine posted on Facebook the morning after the shutdown ended. This particular friend was a furloughed federal lawyer who works at the EPA. The picture was of a grinning Vice President Joe Biden holding several cartons of muffins. The captain read, “Look who showed up to greet us at work this morning.”
Jon Kuhl is the Director of Public Affairs in NCSL’s Washington, D.C. office.