12/03/2012 11:29 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

Rethinking "Responsibility": The Impact of Spending Cuts on State and Local Budgets

"Responsibility" is a tricky concept.

As the end of the year rushes toward us, there has been a lot of talk about "fiscal responsibility." Unless Congress intervenes, January will bring with it both automatic spending cuts and expirations of a number of tax measures in the United States. What is the most "responsible" way forward as we as a country grapple with tough questions about the budget?

As a local elected official in Florida since 2003 - and as someone who works with many young elected officials throughout the country for my job - I have noticed that one issue that's not getting a lot of airtime is the effect the deep federal budget cuts being considered would have on state and local budgets. There is no place where these federal budget fights are made more real than at the state and local levels. It is, quite literally, where the rubber meets the road.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that a national budget plan to reduce the deficit that does not include major new revenues would likely include significant cuts to federal grant funding to states and localities. They note that more than half of federal discretionary grant money to states goes to education and transportation. The rest of the funding goes to a number of other vitally important priorities like housing, community development, job training, and disaster response.

Local governments have taken great pains to keep local economies buoyed through the recent recession. We have stepped up to fill in gaps in basic services from the loss of federal funding our cities and states have already experienced. Many of us have weathered cuts in Community Development Block Grants which support work like the provision of decent affordable housing and the revitalization of deteriorating neighborhoods.

If these additional cuts happen, state and local governments would find ourselves in a terrible bind: figure out on our own how to come up with the lost funding, or allow critical work like educating young people, keeping community members in housing, and providing safe roads for residents to take a major hit. As local and state governments, we don't have the option of leaving these questions unaddressed. And local families that rely most on the social safety net will continue to be hardest hit by these federal fiscal battles. With state budgets still recovering from the recession, is cutting funding for those services that are the building blocks of economic growth the "responsible" path?

The bottom line is the deficit reduction isn't just about cuts. We must also raise new revenues. An unbalanced approach to our fiscal problems - where the rich are not paying their fair share - would bring serious harm to working families across the country and make an already-difficult budget situation for state and local governments much worse.

Fiscal responsibility means helping the economy grow, cutting out waste, and investing in our most efficient and effective programs. It does not mean shifting the burden of our budget troubles to state and local governments. And it certainly does not mean slashing services for those who are already most vulnerable among us.

Because that doesn't sound very "responsible" to me.