By Renee Couch, Comal County Treasurer and TAC Board President
The state's approximately 100,000 county employees have not only been fighting the spread of the coronavirus, but they're also planning to manage an economic crisis that experts predict will be as significant as the Great Depression.
Tax revenues in some counties could be down drastically, and the National Association of Counties (NACo) is predicting counties nationwide will take a $144 billion hit. We will definitely not get past this crisis without negative effects on county budgets. According to the April 2020 Fiscal Notes, sales taxes — the largest source of funding for our state's budget — fell 9.3% in April, the biggest drop since January 2010. Motor vehicle sales and rental taxes, motor fuel taxes, oil and natural gas production taxes, hotel occupancy taxes and alcoholic beverage taxes were all down in April. Given that this is expected to continue, Texans could even see cutbacks in the vital services that counties provide, such as 911 operations, emergency response, law enforcement and other first responders, and management of hospitals, jails and the courts system.
In May, the Texas Association of Counties joined NACo in sending a letter to bipartisan leadership in the U.S. Senate, urging them to provide direct and flexible funding for counties of all sizes. The letter praised Congress for passing the CARES Act, which provided support to counties with populations greater than 500,000. In mid-May, the U.S. House passed the HEROES Act, which would provide direct and flexible relief for counties of all sizes. The bipartisan SMART Act, which has been introduced in both the House and Senate, would provide $80 billion in flexible relief for counties.
Our letter to the U.S. Senate calls for support of a new round of direct, flexible relief for increased coronavirus-related county expenditures and lost revenue. This additional federal aid to local governments is the only way Texas counties will be able to offset some of these losses. County employees and elected officials can help by contacting their lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and urging them to support a bipartisan effort to continue direct, flexible federal relief to counties of all sizes.
"Serving Americans every day at the local level is a non-partisan undertaking, and what America's local governments need right now is a bipartisan solution to address the enormous economic and public health challenge that COVID-19 has presented," the letter says.
NACo is also promoting a campaign, We Are Counties, to highlight the hard work and sacrifices of our public servants in county government to keep their neighbors safe from COVID-19.
We encourage you to share your photos and videos of county employees at work during this pandemic to the We Are Counties webpage at www.naco.org/wearecounties. Let's represent Texas counties in this national gallery of local government heroes.
My wish is for all of you to have a fun and memorable summer with your family and friends. As Texas reopens its cherished vacation spots, please take the necessary precautions to keep everyone safe. Remember, we are all in this together!