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12.05.10

The Top 10 Most Brutal Budget Cuts

State and local governments have taken the brunt of the $400 billion in budget shortfalls—and next year will be worse. From freeing prisoners to shortening school weeks, Benjamin Sarlin presents 10 of the toughest cuts.

In Colorado Springs, streetlights have gone dark and water to public parks has been shut off. In Arizona, the state no longer pays for transplant operations under Medicaid, and in Nevada, cancer patients have been left without chemotherapy.

Gallery: 10 Brutal Budget Cuts

But the endless budget crises of the past few years are about to get even worse next year, experts warn, with federal aid drying up and obvious budget tricks already exhausted. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state shortfalls are expected to exceed $140 billion next year, up from $125 billion the previous year. This time, however, the states won’t have $60 billion in stimulus funds to help them balance their budgets. Some have postponed paying bills (not coincidentally, in an election year), concentrating their budget woes even further and even raising fears of bankruptcy.  

A dozen newly elected governors have pledged not to raise taxes at all, making unprecedented cuts inevitable in already hard-hit states like Nevada and Florida. Previously unthinkable proposals, like withdrawing from Medicaid, have been proposed in states like Texas, where the Houston Chronicle reports next year’s budget deficit could reach $25 billion.

“This is now Year 3 of some unprecedented budget pressures,” said Susan K. Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. “They’ve already taken the relatively painless cuts and tax increases.”

Already states have had to make up more than $400 billion in shortfalls since the recession, with governors, mayors, and county commissioners across the country leaving no stone unturned in their quest for revenue-boosting and penny-pinching measures. The Daily Beast compiled 10 of the most severe and creative state and local budget cuts either enacted or considered since the economic collapse.

Benjamin Sarlin is the Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast and edits the site's politics blog, Beltway Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.