By Kevin Maxwell
In a recent article on the financial website The Medium, Tomas Pueyo coins the phrase “the hammer and the dance” when discussing epidemiological modeling.
The hammer, in this case, is the lockdown from COVID-19. Like a hammer striking suddenly and violently, our economy came to a grinding halt. No warning, no preparation.
We were asked to stay at home and increase cleaning frequency and adopt new hygiene standards. We isolated ourselves and learned new terms like social distancing and stay at home orders.
Here the dance part begins. Like that first awkward dance in high school, you take to the dance floor. Slowly at first. Looking around to see if you are doing it right. Looking to see who else is dancing. You might only dance for a moment or two, and then you retreat to the safety of your chair from which you came.
You evaluate the situation some more. Then you go back out and dance a little longer, evaluate, retreat, and do it again. Slowly you become comfortable. This is the dance. This is what economic resuscitation looks like.
Scottsdale’s version of the hammer and the dance will be similar. In a few weeks, we will get the report from the state about Scottsdale’s share of April tax revenues. This will be the first picture we get reflecting a full 30 days of COVID-19 shutdown impacted sales tax revenues. The news will be bad.
Some speculate a 40% reduction in sales tax received by the city. No one suggests that the loss will be less than 30%.
As we speculate on when the crisis might be over, many look forward to a day when the world will be deemed safe again, and things return to normal. Now we understand that recovery will take much longer, months maybe years longer. We won’t be able just to turn the lights on, and everyone goes back to what they were doing. No, we must dance our way again to normal.
Businesses will open gradually. Maybe allowing some workers back with extra precautions in place. Safety measures could include regular temperature monitoring for employees before entering workplaces. Perhaps mandatory wearing of masks while on duty. Restaurants may be allowed to open but with diminished capacity and limited hours. This will be the new normal for some time.
And for every 10 steps, we take forward; we will always retreat hastily by a few steps when something goes wrong. That is the nature of this delicate dance to recovery.
As businesses open, tax revenue will start to trickle in. The lesson of the hammer and the dance is that the recovery will be a prolonged era of evaluation and hopefulness. A balanced budget is achievable only by planning for the worst while hoping for something better.
The leaders who take office in January 2021 will step into one of the more difficult if not most, difficult financial predicaments in the city’s history. To succeed, they must possess a diverse set of skills.
Leaders who regularly don rose-colored glasses will be of limited benefit to us. We will need leaders who are laser-focused and ready to go on day one. This is no time for a learning curve.
In addition, leaders who want to hold a mirror to the glorious past will also not be beneficial for future considerations. While we must look to the past, the period we must focus on is the worst of our recent past — the period from 2009 through 2014, the six-year period that it took for our city to recover from the last recession.
I 100% advocate for citizen input and council consensus. This past summer, as we were considering the bond election, we enjoyed several months of education, discussion, and input from the community. That luxury will not be available to leaders in 2020. The leaders who help us dance will be individuals who act decisively and purposefully.
We are already in a recession. That is an absolute fact. The determination of the magnitude and depth of that recession is forthcoming.
Scottsdale and its tourism infused economy will be resilient, but it is illogical to build a budget based on the assumption that it will come back quickly. It won’t. History tells us it won’t. We need to listen to the lessons of our past.
We will return to economic stability. But the dance floor from here to there is filled with anxiety, trepidation, and some bad music. I am ready to prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and fight to get back to our best as quickly as the city can do so. I seek your vote of support.