Looking Back at 2021 in State and Local Government

San Francisco City Hall at dawn.

San Francisco City Hall at dawn. iStock.com/JasonDoiy

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

States and localities demonstrated their resilience as they navigated a second year marked by the pandemic. There are plenty of pressing issues on the horizon heading into 2022.

It's been another eventful and challenging year for states and localities across the U.S., as Covid-19 and the fallout it is causing for public health systems and the nation's economy continue to dominate government affairs at all levels. There was a glimmer of hope heading into the summer that the pandemic might finally be waning as vaccines became widely available and case counts fell. But that moment gave way to the rise of the delta variant and, now, omicron and another wave of infections. The new variant and skyrocketing case counts amid the winter holiday season mean that America will face more pandemic-driven sickness and disruption as 2022 begins and that state and local governments will continue to be occupied with responding to the crisis.

This year has also been a notable one for federal legislation with major implications for states and localities. First, there was the American Rescue Plan Act, which provided $350 billion in direct aid to states and local governments—a historic amount of funding. Then, in November, President Biden signed a bipartisan infrastructure law that boosted the amount of federal funding for public works by about $550 billion. For many state, city and county leaders, getting infrastructure legislation like this passed has been a longstanding priority. In the coming year, how states and localities are beginning to use their ARPA funds and the added infrastructure dollars will be a major storyline to watch.

The national reckoning over racial injustice ignited in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and the killings of other Black Americans by police continues to reverberate in state and local policy making. Across the country, leaders at all levels of government have been reexamining how principles related to equity and preventing racism factor into policy and budget decisions. This extends beyond law enforcement to areas like economic development and transportation as well. Going forward, the question is whether and to what extent political promises to address inequities and discrimination end up reflected in the legislation and spending decisions coming out of statehouses and city halls. Meanwhile, calls for reforms within police departments and the criminal justice system have become increasingly overshadowed in some major cities by concerns about gun violence and other public safety issues.

State and local policy makers are also grappling with tough problems that predate Covid-19 and, in some cases, were made worse by it—like shortages of affordable housing and homelessness. Adapting to climate change and more frequent natural disasters and severe weather events is another leading issue for communities hit by floods, fires and storms in recent years. At the same time, state and local agencies, like employers in other parts of the economy, are confronting worker shortages for positions ranging from police officers, to waste haulers, to snowplow drivers, a difficulty that will linger into the new year.

Another noteworthy and unsettling trend during the pandemic and in the wake of the 2020 presidential election has been an upswing in threats and harassment directed towards public officials and their families. The early days of this year saw many statehouses ratchet up security after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The National League of Cities recently released survey findings showing that a rising number of local officials are facing threats and intimidation. And there are instances all across the country of people stepping away from public service jobs, particularly those related to areas like elections and public health, because of threats and harassment. It's an issue that shows few immediate signs of abating amid the nation's deep political divisions and a steady flow of online misinformation.

Overall, state and local governments and the people who work for them have in many ways demonstrated an immense amount of resilience during the past two years. They've adapted and pivoted to respond to an unprecedented public health crisis, managed the transition to remote work and other major shifts in their own operations and dealt with a rollercoaster of uncertainties over what will come next with the virus, the budgets they oversee, and broader economic turmoil. The Covid-era has been a historic test for state and local governments. Here's to hoping that it doesn't last much longer. 

With that, I'll leave you with a selection of Route Fifty's coverage over the past year examining some of the topics mentioned above. Wherever things might head in the upcoming year, we at Route Fifty will strive to provide you with the latest news and analysis on trends, challenges and best practices in state and local government. Thanks for reading. And Happy New Year!

-- Bill Lucia, Senior Editor

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Bill Lucia is a senior editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

NEXT STORY: Modern America’s Most Successful Secessionist Movement

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