How did COVID-19, a merciless virus that doesn’t care a fig about your political persuasion (Mike Pence’s press secretary has it, but so, too, do members of New York’s storied Cuomo family, a.k.a. Democratic royalty), turn so deeply political?
It defies all logic, and yet here we are. On Monday, Gov. Kate Brown and four other western governors, all Democrats, leapt even further into the fray, calling on the federal government to provide $1 trillion in aid for local and state governments who’ve been walloped by bad budget news (and, unlike the federal government, have constitutional mandates to balance their budgets—we can’t borrow our way out of this, folks).
That ups the ante of calls for aid to the states considerably—the previous ask had been around $700 million.
“Without federal support, states and cities will be forced to make impossible decisions—like whether to fund critical public healthcare that will help us recover, or prevent layoffs of teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other first responders,” states a letter signed by the governors and statehouse leaders of California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Colorado. (See the text of their full letter here.) “And, without additional assistance, the very programs that will help people get back to work—like job training and help for small business owners—will be forced up on the chopping block.”
We won’t know how bad things really are right now in Oregon for another nine days. That’s when the state’s economic revenue forecast comes out, the first since All This put the entire region on pause. But Brown on Monday called on all state agencies to prepare for cuts of 17 percent across the board, in anticipation of a $3 billion revenue drop. There’s no getting around that kind of pain.
The federal government, however, appears to be in no rush to leap to aid the states. President Trump and Republican allies in Congress have cast it as a red state vs. blue state situation, as detailed in Monday’s New York Times, and suggested that Democratic-led states—some of which, including Oregon, have struggled for years to contain ballooning pension costs for retired government employees, a sore spot for Republicans who are no fans of organized labor—can’t be trusted to responsibly manage billions of dollars in federal aid. Instead, Trump and other Republicans have said, the federal government should wait on aid until they can better chart the effects of the first-round stimulus spending.
Keep an eye on this one, particularly on Republican leaders from the region (retiring Rep. Greg Walden, for one, or Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner) who could try to thread the needle and broker a middle ground.