“We’re all in this together” has become a buoyant slogan amid the worst pandemic in a century.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, effectively decrees a dour alternative: “You’re on your own.”
He recently painted a national emergency in partisan colors of “blue” vs. “red” states, choosing division over unity. The most powerful Republican in the Senate, McConnell recently said that states should file for bankruptcy (legally impossible) if their tax revenues plunge in the face of rising demand for public services in a time of crisis.
Although McConnell softened his tone late this week, mass public sector layoffs already have begun from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Dayton, Ohio, to Arlington, Tex. Without adequate federal aid, some 300,000 to 1 million municipal workers in education, sanitation, safety and health could be laid off or be sent home without pay, the National League of Cities estimates.
Meanwhile, the National Governors Association, in a bipartisan plea, called for $500 billion in aid to states hit by sharply declining tax collections, as unemployment soars and retail sales plummet.
“In the absence of unrestricted fiscal support of at least $500 billion from the Federal government, states will have to confront the prospect of significant reductions to critically important services all across this country,” the group said in a statement. “Hampering public health, the economic recovery, and — in turn — our collective effort to get people back to work.”
McConnell initially brushed aside their appeal, implicitly accusing “blue states” of coddling public workers and unspecified acts of fiscal negligence not found in “red states” with Republican majorities. “There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations,” McConnell said in an interview.
The caricature of fiscally reckless “blue states” ending up wards of the federal government is rich coming from the senior senator from Kentucky. Minnesota, in February, forecasted a $1.5 billion surplus ahead. Hardly the result of profligate spending. What’s more, for every dollar in federal taxes Minnesotans send to the U.S. Treasury, the state receives 53 cents in federal aid. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin and many other “blue states” also send Washington more than the nation’s capital sends back.
And McConnell’s Kentucky? Its citizens receive $1.49 for every dollar paid in federal taxes. Similar sweet deals are conferred on Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia and Arkansas. Federal spending amounts to 41% of Kentucky state government revenue. In Minnesota, the total comes to far less — 27.5%.
In short, Minnesotans are far more self-reliant than the good citizens of McConnell’s home state.
Under political fire, McConnell may be about to bow, at least hinting at taking up federal aid to states and localities. But only if he gets a law that keep companies from being sued by workers for endangering their health in factories, offices, restaurants and shops.
“We probably will do another bill. What I’m saying is it won’t just be about money,” McConnell said. “The next pandemic coming will be the lawsuit pandemic in the wake of this one. So we need to prevent that now when we have the opportunity to do it.”
Congress should release the money to state and local governments — in the hundreds of billions of dollars — without delay. The debate over excusing companies from accountability for worker safety shouldn’t be tied to this much-needed aid.
The crisis isn’t about blue state/red state passions: It’s about life and death — and achieving some semblance of fairness.