Here's a hypothetical question: Suppose Congress, in it's new $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus law known as the American Rescue Plan, included a $350 billion pot of money to help cash-strapped cities, counties and states pay for pandemic costs. And suppose congressional lawmakers added a provision restricting states from using these funds in other ways — like tapping them to finance local tax cuts.
Actually, you don't have to "suppose." These things are already enshrined in the newly passed and signed American Rescue Plan.
Now suppose some states — read here 21 Republican controlled states — decided they didn't like that guardrail and already are scheming to use the virus relief money in another way. Suppose they didn't plan to pay for extra health department costs to distribute vaccines or for extra unemployment benefits for tens of thousands who lost jobs and income, or even for health care expansions under Medicaid when those lost jobs also meant lost private insurance. Suppose they instead still want to use the charity intended to benefit us to bolster state general funds so they might curry future election favor by saying they lowered state and local taxes?
Actually you need not "suppose" this either. These GOP states want the money, but not the rules.
On Tuesday, just five days after President Biden on March 11 signed the relief/stimulus bill into law, 21 Republican state attorneys general threatened to take action against the Biden administration, claiming it imposes "unprecedented and unconstitutional" limits on their states' ability to lower taxes.
Congress wants to ensure Washington isn't footing the bill on behalf of states that later take deliberate steps to reduce their revenue, especially if those states opt out of using that money for COVID aid. But that congressional safeguard clearly frustrates many GOP leaders, who said in a letter to the Treasury Department that the law's vague wording threatens to interfere with states in good financial standing that sought to provide "such tax relief with or without the prospect of COVID-19 relief funds."
The attorneys general signing onto this shameful scam are from Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming, according to the Associated Press.
Perhaps the Tennessee attorney general was asleep when the letter made the rounds. We hope we'll not see him jump on as a late add.
But, yes, Georgia's AG signed on, and let us remind you Georgians that your state is dead last in the country for coronavirus vaccine rollout. But now your AG wants to use the virus relief/stimulus money to pay its way to tax cuts with federal taxes you've already paid — even as you still don't have shots in your arms.
The 21 states sent their seven-page letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and called on the Biden administration to make it clear that they can proceed with some of their plans to cut taxes, including plans that "predate the stimulus." And they said the relief law "would represent the greatest invasion of state sovereignty by Congress in the history of our Republic."
Let's talk about that "predate the stimulus" assertion.
* First of all, predating the stimulus means nothing. The stimulus just happened this month. What's more, we're only beginning to hope we have a handle on getting out from under the virus itself — let alone the economic pain from it. We don't have to look far to see evidence of this.
Because Republican majority states are largely throwing everything open again — or in the cases of Tennessee and Georgia, never really closing things — The University of Tennessee announced Wednesday that it has paused all football team activities after new rounds of COVID-19 surveillance testing revealed multiple positive tests among staff members and players. Tennessee had set next Tuesday as the launch of its 15 spring practices.
Now those staff members and players who tested positive reportedly have self-isolated and are "taking the appropriate safety measures in accordance with CDC and local health department guidelines."
Haven't we heard this malarkey before? When will we finally get it?
* Secondly, even if a state's tax cut plan had predated not just the stimulus but also the virus, a state can't erase history. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in February 2020 proposed a budget that included a 4% pay raise for teachers, but by June when the virus was spreading and the state was reportedly facing a budget shortfall of up to $1.5 billion, the administration backed away, revising the raise to 2% instead. This year, the lost 2% is being talked about again for July. Time will tell.
The point is simple. This federal aid to states, counties and cities is meant to help with virus relief — not tax relief. We could perhaps make a case that the one-time virus relief might be steered back to make good on the lost teacher raises, but not if the state just jumped on the federal revenue cash to claim a tax cut.
Partisan scamming like this — designed with the sole idea of making incumbent GOP politicians look better on a ballot after they claim they gave you a tax cut (when really the Biden administration provided the revenue) should really make your blood boil.