As debates over spending cuts and budget proposals take place in statehouses across the country, the Associated Press-APME yearlong Broken Budgets initiative continues to deliver.
Watch for advisories on what's coming from AP bureaus.
After the Session: Explaining the Fiscal Crisis to Your Readers
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easily and effectively the states emerge from the Great Recession will
affect the speed and stability of America’s recovery overall. Help your
readers better understand these complicated issues and get tips for
improving your coverage of these important topics.
Press, in partnership with Associated Press Managing Editors and The
Pew Center on the States, invites you to participate in a webinar that
aims to give you new insight and tools to help you cover your state’s
budget after the legislative session.
The AP-APME initiative has seen numerous national stories get front-page play around the country and localized reports that are enriching papers. A 50-state interactive should be available to members soon, as will free training for reporters and editors on examining budgets. The AP-APME initiative is taking a look at how state and local governments are dealing with the fiscal crisis and how Americans' lives are changing because of it.
To join in, members don't have to engage in a full-blown collaboration. When your staff does a particularly compelling story on the state's fiscal problems, point it out to your AP bureau chief for use as a member exchange; localize one of the upcoming stories listed below (and that localized version can be used on state lines as a member exchange as well). And of course, we welcome ideas for full collaborations.
Members are getting involved in a big way. One great example is taking place in Pennsylvania, where 33 papers in April produced a strong Broken Budgets project on state legislative staffing.
As part of that project, the Bucks County Courier Times and reporter Jo Ciavaglia investigated the elite health plans of Pennsylvania lawmakers. There's nothing close to these plans in private business, she found, and her work was shared with member newspapers.
The paper has set up a "State of Health" online package and Ciavaglia continues to report on the issue, as some legislators are calling for changes.
The Associated Press, in partnership with Associated Press Managing Editors and The Pew Center on the State, held a webinar in June 2011 to give journalists new insights and tools to help cover state's budget after the legislative session. Below is a video of the webinar.
The webinar was presented as part of AP-APME's "Broken Budgets" series, a yearlong initiative that examines the fiscal crisis facing U.S. states and cities, how state and local governments are dealing with this crisis and how Americans' lives are changing because of it.
Here are recent AP stories: BROKEN BUDGETS-UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE-STATES.
WASHINGTON _ Some of the states that have drained their unemployment insurance funds are cutting the number of weeks that a laid-off worker can count on those benefits. Legislators are trying to limit tax increases for businesses to replenish the pool and are hoping the federal government keeps stepping in when the economy slumps. Michigan, Missouri and Arkansas recently reduced the maximum number of weeks that the jobless can get state unemployment benefits. Florida is on the verge of doing so. Unemployment in those states ranges from 7.8 percent in Arkansas to 11.1 percent in Florida. The benefit cuts come as legislatures deal with the damage that the recession inflicted on state unemployment insurance programs. The sharp increase in the number of people who lost their jobs drained the reservoir of money dedicated to paying out benefits. By Kevin Freking.
STOCKTON, Calif. _ The financial crisis facing the nation's public schools is taking a heavy toll on cities such as Stockton, a central California community already plagued by home foreclosures and high unemployment. Last year, the Stockton school district laid off 100 teachers, gutted its summer school program and raised class sizes from 20 to 30 students in kindergarten through third grade. Now, amid uncertainty over the state budget, the 37,000-student district is laying off nearly 500 teachers, counselors, custodians and other employees, and preparing to pack as many as 36 students into elementary school classrooms. Around the country, states are cutting education spending to close gaping budget holes while school districts are running out of federal stimulus money that avoided widespread job losses over the past two years. As budgets shrink and expenses grow, districts are laying off large numbers of teachers, raising class sizes, cutting electives such as music and art, scrapping summer school programs and shortening the academic year. By Terence Chea.
NEW YORK _ When his parents couldn't afford to send him to summer camp, Port Lau settled in for a summer at home: Eating. Sleeping. Playing video games. That's the kind of school break a rising number of kids can look forward to this year, as budget shortfalls around the country are robbing children of the day camps, swimming pools and short-term jobs that have long defined summer in the city for urban youngsters. In New York City, the youth employment program that got Lau a summer job at 14 is losing $15 million, and 11,000 spots. A summer camp for children with families from Ethiopia is losing its funding in Washington, D.C. By Samantha Gross.
ANDERSON, S.C. _On one of those May days when the temperature soars near 90 and the haze on the South Carolina horizon warns of the upcoming summer, four teens came up to the Sheppard Swim Center in Anderson looking to cool off. They were turned away because this summer the pool is only open to Anderson Swim Club members. And they may have to drive quite a bit to find an open public pool anywhere. In the past three years, four municipal pools in the area have closed.
The Great Recession drained city budgets across the country, and in return, mayors and city councils have drained public pools for good. From New York City to Sacramento pools are being shuttered because it costs too much to keep them running, taking away a right of summer for millions, especially families that can't afford a membership to private pool or fitness club and don't live in a neighborhood where they can make friends with someone with a backyard pool. By Jeffrey Collins.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - California's governor wants to maintain temporary tax increases to keep $9 billion a year flowing to the state treasury. Low-tax Texas is considering tapping its rainy day account to soften the effects of deep spending cuts. New York's governor pushed through budget cuts while keeping a campaign pledge to avoid tax increases. And residents of Illinois and Florida are getting a very different take on taxes: Illinois passed a massive increase, while Florida is giving its taxpayers a big break. The five states are the nation's most populous and account for about a third of state spending but are taking very different approaches to solving their respective budget deficits, illustrating that the priorities of the majority party play as much a role in budgeting decisions as a state's fiscal health. If those states are a guide, there is no single model for how to close a deficit. And so far, it's too early to tell which approach will be most successful. By Brendan Farrington.
BROKEN BUDGETS-LAVISH BENEFITS?
ALBANY, NY - A prosecutor in California collects $118,000 in unused sick days. A police officer in New York rings up $125,000 in overtime the year before retiring and "spikes" his pension payments. An Ohio school superintendent is hired for the same job from which he just retired and takes in more than $100,000 annually. The headlines feed a stereotype of fat-cat public workers with the kind of cushy benefits that most private-sector workers can only dream about. With the economy still wobbly, governors are looking hard at employee pay and benefits, and taxpayers are asking whether state and local governments can remain so generous to public workers. The issue has risen to national prominence as Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio have sought not only to make public employees pay more for their benefits but also prohibit many aspects of collective bargaining for the unions that represent them. Just how accurate is the portrayal of lavish compensation and benefits for public workers? Interviews with experts and reviews of numerous reports on the topic give a mixed answer, and one that can vary greatly from state to state. By Michael Hill.
BROKEN BUDGETS-TEACHERS IN TROUBLE
OAKLAND, Calif. - The torrent of pink slips hitting the nation's public schools has reached every classroom on this small elementary campus in the hardscrabble flats of East Oakland. All 16 teachers at Futures Elementary have been warned they could lose their jobs this year because of California's budget crisis. They're among 540 teachers in Oakland and more than 20,000 statewide who received preliminary layoff notices last month. Schools districts around the country are preparing for large-scale layoffs of teachers and other school employees as states slash education spending to plug massive holes in their budgets. But as an era of austerity moves governors and lawmakers in many states, others wonder what effects such deep cuts will have on the next generation and on America's ability to compete pace with emerging competitors around the world. By Terence Chea.
BROKEN BUDGETS-IOWA PRESCHOOLS
DES MOINES, Iowa _ Superintendents at some of Iowa's largest school districts predict Gov. Terry Branstad's plan to replace the state's current preschool system with a scholarship program based on financial need would cause fewer children to enroll, forcing districts to lay off teachers and other staff. By Andrew Duffelmeyer.
BROKEN BUDGETS-PRISON PROGRAMS
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. _ Eager to cut costs in their prison systems, many states are slashing programs that are intended keep inmates from returning to crime after they are released. States that cut addiction counseling, mental health treatment and other services will end up with more people committing crimes, say corrections directors, parole experts and prison reformers. That could mean more people in prison, higher costs and yet more service cuts. By Chris Wills.
BROKEN BUDGETS-SENTENCING REFORM
ATLANTA _ As the costs to house state prisoners have soared in recent years, many conservatives are re-examining a tough-on-crime era that has led to stiffer sentences, overstuffed prisons and bloated corrections budgets. Ongoing deficits and steep drops in tax revenue in most states are forcing the issue, with law-and-order Republican governors and state legislators beginning to amend years of policies that were designed to lock up more criminals and put them away for longer periods of time. Most of the proposals circulating in at least 22 state Capitols would not affect current state inmates, but only those who have yet to be charged. By Greg Bluestein.
BROKEN BUDGETS-LAVISH BENEFITS?
ALBANY, N.Y. _ Headlines feed a stereotype of teachers, police officers and other public workers being pampered with cushy benefits that private-sector workers can only dream of. Governors around the nation trying to slice into budget deficits have highlighted the benefit gap as they target state and local worker benefits. But how accurate is the image of lavishly compensated public workers accurate? The question is important to a growing national debate about the role of unions in the public sector in an era of diminished tax revenue and taxpayer anger fueled by perceptions of fat-cat compensation and enviable perks. By Mike Hill.
BROKEN BUDGETS-TEACHER LAYOFFS
SAN FRANCISCO _ Schools districts around the country are preparing to lay off what could be record numbers of teachers as state legislatures slash spending on education to close massive holes in their budgets. The shrunken teaching force will lead to larger class sizes, fewer electives and extracurricular activities, and more obstacles to turning around low-performing schools. In many districts, the least experienced teachers will lose their jobs because of union rules that call for layoffs by seniority. In California, education officials expect to districts to issue 30,000 or more pink as administrators prepare for worst-case budget scenarios amid uncertainty over how the governor and Legislature will close a $26 billion budget deficit. Yet the prospect of deep cuts to local school programs may have even Republican lawmakers looking for alternatives and ways to compromise with Democrats. By Terence Chea.
BROKEN BUDGETS-LARGE STATES
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. _ The five largest states are facing budget shortfalls and all are taking different approaches on how to address the problem. California is trying to extend temporary taxes and borrow money to go along with budget cuts. Texas is looking into tapping a rainy day fund to ease the pain of cuts. Illinois is raising income taxes and borrowing money while looking to increase spending. New York is wrangling between simply making the necessary cuts and extending a temporary tax on residents making more than $200,000. But only Florida is talking about cutting to meet the shortfall and then cutting even more to make room for tax cuts. Florida Gov. Rick Scott believes that while it may hurt more in the short run, eliminating the corporate income tax will bring more businesses to the state that relies primarily on sales tax for its revenue. It's an experiment that will be closely watched. By Brendan Farrington.
BROKEN BUDGETS-RETIREMENT AGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. _ How early is too early to retire? Many public-sector jobs allow workers to retire at 55 _ and sometimes 50 _ with pensions that are almost equal to their final pay. That contrasts with the private-sector, where most workers do not have defined pensions and will have to work until 65 or 67 to get Social Security. In part, it's an issue of fairness: Should retirement ages rise for public-sector employees to be more like those for the taxpayers who fund their salaries and pensions? But it also is a serious financial issue affecting state budgets across the country. In some cases, government workers will receive a pension check longer than they received a paycheck. By Chris Wills and Don Thompson.
BROKEN BUDGETS-EDUCATION STIMULUS
As lawmakers around the country debate their states' budgets, they're staring over the edge of a massive fiscal cliff – the point where about $100 billion in federal stimulus money for education will run out. The end of that money will compound states' severe budget woes and likely lead to thousands of layoffs and the elimination of popular school programs around the country. By Sean Cavanagh and Heather Hollingsworth.
There's room for more – much more – member involvement in this reporting initiative that is taking place in all 50 AP statehouse bureaus and sports its own logo.
Broken Budgets works like this: Advisories of major stories produced by AP staffers are sent to member papers 7 to 10 days in advance, giving time for localizing. Stories in the initiative can be jointly produced by AP, member papers and journalism organizations. If your organization has an idea for this series,a story you'd like to produce jointly, or even a statewide project you'd want to participate in, please contact your state's AP bureau chief.