In the midst of the worst health crisis America has suffered in 102 years, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided it was still a good time to play politics.
The Kentucky Republican, in a April 22 radio interview, said it was time “to push the pause button” before moving forward with “this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments.”
That’s reasonable ... depending on how long the pause button will stay pressed amid, among other troubling signs, record increases in unemployment filings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But then his office put out a news release in support of his views: “Stopping Blue State Bailouts,” an apparent allusion to some of the states having financial difficulty being run by Democrats.
Leader McConnell is among the last legislators who should be talking about dependence on the federal government: Kentucky is the fourth-most dependent on federal money for its budget, with nearly 40 percent of its funding coming from federal taxpayers in blue states like California, red states like Texas and purple states like Wisconsin.
Kentucky is quite different from New York state, but the Bluegrass State is facing a revenue shortfall just the same.
“The number of Kentuckians that have enrolled in unemployment, the shutting down of sales tax collections across the state, extending the filing deadline on income taxes … it will have major impacts on state government,” state Rep. Steven Rudy, a Republican, told the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Here’s where Kentucky and New York state differ: Kentucky receives more federal dollars than it sends to Washington, while the opposite is true in New York.
“This is not the time or the place or the situation to start your divisive politics,” a visibly agitated New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said in response to McConnell. “It’s not red and blue. It’s red, white and blue.”
Or to put it another way, COVID-19 doesn’t care which way your state leans politically.
We think it’s entirely reasonable to mandate that new federal assistance not be used to clean up state messes unrelated to the pandemic. Illinois’ money pit of a state pension system is the result of decades of bad decisions and no decisions; legislators in the Land of Lincoln are going to have to fix that themselves.
We also want members of Congress and President Donald Trump to be conscious of the long-term risk of throwing billions of dollars here and billions of dollars there.
But the fact is, every state’s budget and every state’s economy is being dealt a severe blow by the pandemic, and every state will need some degree of financial assistance from the federal government.
We can, and should, debate the amounts of money to be allocated. But all of the states in question — red, blue or purple — are American states with American citizens.