Rick Scott tells cash-strapped states to 'reject' relief money because it's 'wasteful'

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The Florida Republican called it a 'simple and common sense request.'

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) offered some unsolicited advice to governors and local governments across the country on Wednesday: Send back relief funds you receive under the newly passed American Rescue Plan.

“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 said in a letter published on his official 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."

Scott is upset that, despite opposition from every Republican in Congress, the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate passed the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that includes hundreds of billions of dollars in direct aid to cash-strapped state, local, territorial, and tribal governments.

The pandemic has hit many state and local governments hard with increased costs and declining revenue. According to a Pew Charitable Trusts analysis last month, state tax revenue for the budget year ending June 30, 2020, was down $46.4 billion compared to pre-pandemic levels. At least half of U.S. states predicted revenue declines for the fiscal year.

A Brookings report in September predicted declining revenues would cost state and local governments more than $100 billion in revenue annually in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

To handle the losses, President Joe Biden's proposed American Rescue Plan included "$350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, and territorial governments 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 vocally opposed the bill, decrying the provision as "wasteful blue state bailouts" that would not address the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have to get serious about how we're spending taxpayer dollars. Biden wants to spend more than $350 billion to bailout wasteful states," he claimed in January. "I've been clear – asking taxpayers to bailout failed politicians in liberal states like New York and Illinois and save them from their own bad decisions isn't fair to fiscally responsible states like Florida."

"House and Senate Democrats insist on moving forward with their radical plan to award wasteful bailouts for failed politicians in states like New York and California," he added in a Feb. 10 press release.

In his letter on Wednesday, however, Scott appeared to have changed his mind. "This is not a taxpayer-funded bailout; it is a reimbursement for specific, COVID-related expenses," he said.

Florida's own governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, reportedly plans to use all of the funds his state gets under the legislation and implied on Monday that Scott and his fellow Florida senator, Marco Rubio, did not do enough to get Florida its fair share, saying "The Senate didn't correct the fact that Florida is getting a lot less than what we would be entitled to on a per capita basis."

A Scott spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.

But this is not the first time Scott has felt the need to tell governors of other states how to do their jobs.

In October 2019, he wrote a letter to the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey telling them what a great job he was doing at cutting the skyrocketing national debt and warning them, "I am concerned for the financial wellbeing of your state and the burgeoning share the taxpayers of [your state] would have to contribute to pay down your debts."

Now that these and other states are set to receive significant federal support, Scott is instructing them to refuse the very funds that could help them improve their financial situations.

As chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Scott is in charge of his party's effort to regain a Senate majority in the 2022 midterms. In recent weeks, he has made talking about austerity and deficit reduction a major part of his pro-GOP message, warning on Tuesday that America has reached "a day of reckoning" on its national debt because of the Biden relief bill.

But Scott backed his party's 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which added an estimated $1 trillion to $2 trillion to the national debt over 10 years. Scott has not made public any letters to the large corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals who benefited most from those cuts asking them to send back the funds they did not need.

Last month, he voted for an unsuccessful amendment urging the Senate to make those tax cuts permanent.

On Tuesday, the same day he made his comments about America's debt reckoning, Scott also signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill to permanently repeal the estate tax. If enacted, that proposal would cost the nation billions in revenue and benefit only dead people with estates worth more than $11.7 million and their heirs.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.