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Florida senator calls pandemic relief 'wasteful' as mayors beg for help

Florida mayors of both parties are backing President Joe Biden’s proposed relief to state and local governments.

By Josh Israel - February 15, 2021
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL)

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) continues to rail against President Joe Biden’s proposal to give states and localities $350 billion in pandemic relief aid, calling it “wasteful.” His own state’s mayors say otherwise.

Scott, who was recently tapped to chair the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2022 campaign, has emerged as one of the most vocal opponents of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in general and of the direct aid to state and local governments in particular.

“Biden wants to spend more than $350 billion to bailout wasteful states,” he said shortly after Biden announced the plan 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.”

He mocked the funds as a “blue-state bailout,” a term used by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last year as he blocked trillions in relief aid for months as his own constituents in Kentucky pleaded for help.

“Data shows states are doing fine, but Dems are still pushing their radical plan to spend billions bailing out their friends in wasteful states,” Scott tweeted on Feb. 19. “Dems need to snap back to reality & stop wasting taxpayer $.”

“I remain deeply troubled by your support for raising taxes and spending hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars on bailouts for the debts and pension holes of liberal states,” he wrote to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Feb. 12. “Our great nation is at a financial crossroads and the solution is not more government spending, tax hikes and mandates on small businesses or blank checks for fiscally incompetent politicians from New York and California.”

A spokesperson for Scott did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

But it is not just Democratic-leaning states and localities that are asking for relief. The cities in Scott’s own state say they badly need assistance to address the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Feb. 3, the Tampa Bay Times published an op-ed written by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez titled, “We mayors — a Democrat in St. Petersburg and a Republican in Miami — need President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to save our communities.”

“We cannot afford to wait. Florida’s cities are in agony and are crying out for help,” the mayors wrote. “President Joe Biden has laid forth his comprehensive American Rescue Plan and it’s already received bipartisan support. The plan is bold and ambitious but even then, there’s nothing in the plan that’s extraneous or not absolutely necessary at this moment.”

On Jan. 29, Kriseman, Suarez, and 19 other Florida mayors of both parties signed on to a letter from the U.S. Conference of Mayors addressed to congressional leadership urging “immediate action on comprehensive coronavirus relief legislation, including providing direct fiscal assistance to all cities, which is long overdue. … The lack of adequate support has resulted in budget cuts, service reductions, and job losses.”

According to an estimate compiled by staff of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Florida would likely receive about $10.3 billion in state aid and another $6 billion in funds for local governments under Biden’s proposed relief plan.

All told, Republican senators such as Scott are fighting against about $87 billion in aid for their own constituents. He and every one of his GOP colleagues voted against the budget resolution that will allow an up-or-down vote on the relief bill.

Last May, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion pandemic aid bill that included nearly a trillion dollars in state and local support. McConnell, then the Senate majority leader, blocked the bill and suggested that broke states should just file for bankruptcy, which they are not legally able to do.

When Senate Republicans finally agreed to a $900 billion compromise in December, the funding for state and local governments had been removed entirely.

“We do have services to provide our residents and we have business to try to uphold and we have rents that need to be paid and we do have facilities that we need to care for. So I was incredibly disappointed,” Miami Shores Mayor Crystal Wagar lamented.

While Scott now is fighting against federal funding for his constituents, during his eight years as Florida’s governor he frequently complained that he was not getting enough support from Washington, D.C., to help him address crises. According to an analysis published by PolitiFact in 2016, Scott had by that year asked for emergency funds from FEMA at least 10 times as governor, requests that were rejected six of those times.

While most of Scott’s federal emergency funding requests followed hurricanes and other natural disasters, he also unsuccessfully asked the Obama administration for up to $5 million in disaster relief after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the Obama Administration denied our request for an Emergency Declaration,” Scott complained at the time. “We are committing every state resource possible to help the victims and the community heal and we expect the same from the federal government.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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