CASPER — Gov. Mark Gordon joined in signing a letter to congressional leadership seeking additional funding for states in Congress’ nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill that’s intended to help address the economic fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak.
The letter — signed by 20 other Republican governors — seeks additional funding for states within a “phase three” spending bill currently under debate by Congress.
Negotiations on that bill were still ongoing as of Monday afternoon.
“We are working to lessen the impact of COVID-19 in our states, but we need direct assistance from Congress,” the letter read. “Injecting states with resources would give governors the ability to respond to the unique needs of each state with the speed and flexibility that is required to respond to this monumental challenge.”
The spending bill — considered to be the largest economic stimulus package in the nation’s history — offers $20 billion to state governments to deal with the crisis.
However, that amount has been criticized by most observers as well as the states themselves, who argue the bill offers too little money for states to deal with the ancillary costs of combating the pandemic.
“The additional fiscal relief in the Senate GOP bill released yesterday falls far short,” Nick Johnson, the senior vice president for state fiscal policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, tweeted Monday morning. “The bill includes $20 billion states can use to help its schools & colleges prepare for & respond to the #COVID19 virus & little else to help states’ bottom lines.”
“$20b is far too small an amount to help much with the extraordinary fiscal challenges states face,” he added.
State leaders seem to agree. In a March 20 letter from the National Governors Association, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo requested at least $150 billion in total aid — nearly eight times as much as under the Republican plan.
While Republican governors didn’t request a specific amount of aid in their letter, they stressed that additional aid beyond the initial $20 billion is just as critical for their states.
“COVID-19 has put an unprecedented burden on state governments,” the Republicans’ letter read. “States are spending heavily on the response to the virus at a time when many are at the end of their budget year and revenues are down because of the limited economic activity. A block grant to each state would provide the certainty we need to continue providing critical services at a high level when they are needed more than ever.”
Debates in Washington, however, have been slowed after Democratic members of Congress voted to delay the deal.
Concerns for Democrats centered largely on the language governing tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans to corporations, which they said lacked sufficient details to ensure fair payments to workers and to prevent corporate behavior similar to that exhibited in the corporate bailouts after the 2008 real estate crash.
Republicans, however, have argued that their bill does include a number of those provisions, including a $425,000 limit on executive total compensation, an explicit prohibition of stock buybacks during the duration of the loan, and a requirement for any company receiving a loan to maintain their existing payroll as of March 13.
They have also argued that Democrats have laden down the deal with a number of provisions they say make the bill unworkable, including tax credits for renewable energy, expansion of paid leave, contingency plans for elections during a state of emergency, guaranteed unemployment benefits and — in addition to the current appropriations in the bill — a massive stabilization fund worth hundreds of billions of dollars intended to help buoy state and local governments after the crisis.
The delay in negotiations has caused ample amounts of anger from Republicans such as Sen. John Barrasso, who ripped the delays in fiery speech Monday on the Senate floor.
“I’ve been on the phone with doctors from around the country, back home with my colleagues at the Wyoming Medical Center, and they are working double time, through the weekend, day and night, the nurses, the doctors, the health care providers. … They need help,” he said. “They’re looking to us for help. They need tests, they need masks, they need respirators, they need hope. Hope there will be a vaccine, hope that there will be a treatment. Those things are in this bill that the Democrats voted to block last night, and the vote Democrats voted to block again today.”
“Bernie Sanders may have lost to Joe Biden, but the Green New Deal of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and that whole crew is alive and well in the Democratic cloakroom and is controlling the actions today on the floor of the United States Senate,” he later added.
Specifics on what impact the pandemic is currently having on state and local governments in Wyoming are currently elusive.
While Gordon said in a news conference Monday he anticipated some belt-tightening as a result of the outbreak, he did not elaborate on the extent of the state’s current funding levels in the short term, only that “right now, the state has adequate funding to meet its needs.”
In an email to the Star-Tribune, a spokesman in Gordon’s office said state agencies are currently operating within their existing budgets but, at this point, it is still “too early to tell” whether the Legislature will need to convene in a special session to fill any shortfalls in agency budgets.
Right now, however, convening a special session is not an active part of Gordon’s plans.
“But it’s impossible to speculate what is to come at this point,” the spokesman wrote.
But is the $20 billion currently on the table in a Senate bill enough?
“It’s a start,” Gordon told reporters Monday. “I don’t believe that this will be repaired easily. I think the consequences are very long term, and I do believe that we will be back with needs for more direct infusions to states.”