GOP governors reject Rick Scott's advice to send back the relief money

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Some of them claimed they had to take their share of the relief package to stop blue states from getting extra.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) demanded last week that governors turn down billions in pandemic relief given to their state under the American Rescue Plan. So far, even Republican governors are ignoring that unsolicited advice.

President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion relief package included $350 billion for cash-strapped states, and local, territorial, and tribal governments. The money is intended to "ensure that they are in a position to keep front line public workers on the job and paid, while also effectively distributing the vaccine, scaling testing, reopening schools, and maintaining other vital services."

Scott, a former governor of Florida who falsely attacked the $350 billion in January as just a "blue-state bailout," opposed the plan — as did every Republican in the House and Senate.

"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," he wrote to the nation's governors and mayors on March 10. "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."

But while few Republican governors — most notably West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice — publicly backed the $1.9 trillion plan before it passed, several are indicating they plan to take every penny they can get. And some are telling Scott candidly what they think of his suggestions.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb told reporters on Wednesday he planned to spend his state's share of the $350 billion "wisely, in one word."

"We have the ability to emerge and accelerate away from this pandemic because of the strong position we were in and this assistance that's coming our way," he explained. "But it will be a team effort.”

A spokesperson for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told the American Independent Foundation this week in an email, "The governor plans to accept the funds and direct the resources where they are needed most."

In a CNN interview earlier this month, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves noted that even though he opposed the relief bill, he was excited that he might be able to use its funds to invest in his state's troubled water and sewer systems.

"Now, while I think that's ridiculous that they spent $1.9 trillion on things other than what is needed for the virus, if that's an option, we're going to certainly do everything we can to utilize it."

Some GOP governors framed their decision as not really even a choice, arguing that if they rejected the funds, it could mean more money for their blue-state counterparts.

"Rejecting the funds would mean California, New York, Illinois, and other big states get to spend Idahoans' tax dollars," Idaho Gov. Brad Little told reporters Thursday. "Rejecting the funds would mean Idaho gives up our say in how our allocated share gets spent. That is unacceptable. Therefore, Idaho will accept the allocation for our state."

A spokesperson for New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu used similar language in a statement to a local television station.

"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," he told WMUR. "Rejecting these funds would only ensure that California, New York and New Jersey would make out with even more of New Hampshire taxpayer dollars. The governor will always find innovative, financially-sound ways to put federal funds to use."

And even Scott's own state's governor, Ron DeSantis, ridiculed Scott's suggestion, telling Politico on Tuesday, "It doesn't make any sense."

"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."

On Wednesday, Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost further undercut Scott's argument.

In a court filing challenging a provision in the relief plan prohibiting the state grants going to pay for tax cuts, he claimed that every single state desperately needs the relief funds: "No State, in the current economic situation, can turn down this 'financial inducement,'" he wrote.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.