Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taking Care Of Their Own - Or Not

It seems some GOP governors, unhappy with the federal stimulus package, are considering refusing the funds on principle. Somehow they consider this responsible.

The story broke in the Boston Globe:
BATON ROUGE, La. - A half-dozen Republican governors are considering turning down some money from the federal stimulus package, a move opponents say puts conservative ideology ahead of the needs of constituents struggling with foreclosures and unemployment.

Though none has outright rejected the money available for education, healthcare, and infrastructure, the governors of Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas have all questioned whether the $787 billion bill signed into law this week will help the economy.

Christopher Bean at Slate has the scoop:
"I'm better off not to get it," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin opposed the stimulus bill because it's "not fair to Alaskans to create expectations about programs that wouldn't be sustainable." Other governors, like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas, said they were concerned about conditional funding. "My concern is there's going to be commitments attached to it that are a mile long," said Perry. "We need the freedom to pick and choose. And we need the freedom to say 'No thanks.' "


Say that all six governors—we're talking Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alaska, Idaho, and Louisiana—rejected the stimulus outright. They would be saying "no" to a collective 424,000 jobs, according to White House estimates. They'd also be sniffing at a total of $3.8 billion for highways and bridges, $559 million for public transit, and $1.5 billion for education. And that's not including state-specific projects like Louisiana's $460 million for flood protection efforts, which include building locks and dams as well as coastal restoration. All told, they would be rejecting an estimated $69 billion.

You'd have to be crazy to turn down that kind of money, especially when states are so strapped. (Louisiana faces a $1.6 billion budget shortfall next year.) And so many of the GOP governors have backtracked. As much as it might offend them ideologically, they are willing to accept this federal largesse for the greater good of the citizens of [insert state here], who face unprecedented hardship as blah blah blah.

That's not a direct quote. But their rhetoric leaves the distinct impression that it is more than ideology that is driving their about-face.

Steve Benen agrees:
I really doubt it will get to that, even in these six states. We're talking about some genuine ideologues, but no one seriously wants to play Russian Roulette with their own state's economy... That these six are even exploring the possibility out loud, however, is a reminder of just how far gone some GOP contingents really are, and just what some 2012 hopefulls will stoop to in order to patronize the far-right Republican base.

The Anonymous Liberal gets right to the heart of the matter:
First there would be nothing principled about refusing Federal stimulus money. These very same governors routinely accept all sorts of federal money. In fact, if you rank states according to the ratio of federal money received per tax dollar contributed, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alaska are all in the top 4. South Carolina and Idaho are in the top 20 and receive significantly more in federal money than they contribute.


Moreover, they are doing so in direct contravention of the interests of their own constituents. These folks are not federal office holders. Their duty is to look after the interests of the people of their respective states, not to police the federal budget. If they were CEOs of a corporation or trustees of organization or trust, this kind of action would be seen as a breach of their fiduciary duties. They would get sued. And rightfully so. By turning down federal stimulus money, they would be inflicting harm on their own citizens.

If federal spending were such a priority for these people, then they ran for the wrong office. If you want to take the message of fiscal minimalism to Washington, don't do it from the governor's mansion - do it from Congress. There are distinct responsibilities that go with each position. A governor has the duty of doing what's best for his/her state with the resources s/he has, regardless of their origin. Posturing like what we see here is irresponsible and harmful to those goals, and if it turns out to be more than posturing the results could be catastrophic.

A week ago we were listening to loons in Congress that, without reading the bill, denounced it as unhelpful - even though their own constituencies benefited from the federal largesse. Now we have states that need that cash planning to turn it down out of federal fiscal responsibility. I'm beginning to wonder exactly what the GOP thinks is the function of public office if its governors take on the federal budget at the expense of their own states' economic health, and its Congresspeople can't even be bothered to learn whether their own constituents will be helped (or harmed) by the legislation that is theirs to pass.

UPDATE: Governor Jindal of Louisiana has confirmed that he's turning down federal stimulus dollars.
Saying that it could lead to a tax increase on state businesses, Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Friday that the state plans to reject as much as $98 million in federal unemployment assistance in the economic stimulus package.
Apparently, Jindal's position is he'd rather limit unemployed assistance now than worry about a possible tax increase on businesses three years from now.

The Politico reports that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) "said he, too, would likely decline funds for broadening access to unemployment insurance." South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) may do the same, but hasn't "made any decisions on any part of the stimulus yet."


Jindal & Co. aren't worried about reality -- and they're certainly not worried about the unemployed -- when there's political grandstanding to be done.

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