New Hampshire governor won't say whether he'll take relief funds he opposed

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Gov. Chris Sununu railed against the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan as an 'outrageous' bailout for other states.

Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu railed against the American Rescue Plan, unsuccessfully pressuring his state's all-Democratic congressional delegation to oppose it. Now that it has become law, he is not saying whether he will take the nearly $1 billion in direct aid that his state is slated to receive.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who joined with every other Republican in the House and Senate to oppose the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief program, wrote to Sununu and other governors last week to demand they refuse the relief funds allocated to their states.

"I am writing you today with a simple and common sense request: each state and local government should commit to reject and return any federal funding in excess of your reimbursable COVID-19-related expenses," the former Florida governor wrote to the nation's governors and mayors on official Senate letterhead. "This commitment will serve the best interests of hard working American taxpayers and will send a clear message to Washington: politicians in Congress should quit recklessly spending other people's money."

Sununu has not said whether he plans to accept the roughly $959 million in state relief funds New Hampshire is expected to get.

His office did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.

A major provision of the plan will send $350 billion in direct grants to cash-strapped state, local, territorial, and tribal governments. New Hampshire localities stand to receive about $458 million in additional money.

According to research conducted by the super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, New Hampshire could very much use those funds. It noted the state's soaring property tax rates and cuts to key programs, pointing to analysis by the Tax Foundation think tank, reported in November by the Concord Monitor, that found the state has seen massive property tax hikes since Sununu was elected in 2016, rising to the third-highest rate in the nation. Last month he proposed cuts in funding to the state's Small Business Development Center that would reduce it to zero by 2023.

Despite the need for funding of programs that benefit the residents of his state, Sununu announced earlier this month that he opposed the relief plan, which he dishonestly attacked as a bailout for other states that would be paid for by his constituents.

"The passage of this bill would send the unmistakable message that Washington politicians expect New Hampshire taxpayers to subsidize poorly run, cash-strapped states," he wrote in a March 1 statement. "While California, New York, and New Jersey make out like bandits with billions of dollars in increased funding, New Hampshire's taxpayers are left to foot the bill. This is outrageous, and a complete betrayal from previously written funding bills."

According to 2020 data from the Rockefeller Institute of Government, New Hampshire receives over a billion dollars more from the federal government than it sends to Washington, D.C., in tax money, meaning that it isn't subsidizing anyone.

Despite GOP gripes that the law is a "blue state bailout," its provisions will actually help state and local governments in many deeply Republican areas that have been hit hard by the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.

While Sununu has thus far remained mum about Scott's demands, at least two Republican governors have publicly rejected it.

A spokesperson for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told the American Independent Foundation on Wednesday that he "plans to accept the funds and direct the resources where they are needed most."

And Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Rick Scott's home state of Florida, told Politico on Tuesday that he plans to use every penny.

"It doesn't make any sense," he said of Scott's proposal. "If Florida were to send the money back, [Treasury Secretary Janet] Yellen is going to send it to Illinois, California, New York or New Jersey. I don't think that would make sense for Floridians — for us to be giving even more money to the blue states that already getting such a big windfall in this bill."

Update, March 18, 2021: On Thursday, a Sununu spokesperson told a local television station that the governor would take the money he had fought against previously. "While the governor had serious concerns that more than half of the spending in the relief package wasn't targeted to COVID, he considers the call to refuse the stimulus money to be foolish," the spokesperson told WMUR. "The governor will always find innovative, financially-sound ways to put federal funds to use."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.