“This is one of the really dumb ideas of all time.”

That was how New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo described Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion that states and localities get no more help from the federal government, and instead be forced to declare bankruptcy. If anything, Cuomo understates the case.

Unfortunately, some other Republicans are now picking up McConnell’s argument that helping states — whose budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic are estimated to total $500 billion — would amount to rewarding profligacy and mismanagement. Instead, the states should be left to collapse.

And helping them would be, in the words of McConnell’s office, a “Blue State Bailout.”

That idea is so factually wrong and so morally revolting that it’s difficult to find the appropriate words to describe it. But let’s give it a shot.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) on April 23 slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's suggestion that states could file for bankruptcy. (Reuters)

To begin, the crisis that states are facing is hitting them all — California and Texas, New York and Florida, Michigan and Mississippi, every one of them. It may not affect every state precisely equally, but red states and blue states are all suffering.

And it has absolutely nothing to do with mismanagement. In fact, the states were in better fiscal shape leading into this recession than the last one; among other things, they had more in their rainy-day funds and unemployment funds than they did prior to the Great Recession. The problem is that this recession is going to be so much worse.

State budgets are mostly funded by sales and income taxes, which have completely cratered at the very moment that states have to spend more to navigate the twin public health and economic crises. And nearly every state is required by law to balance its budget every year.

Now about that “Blue State Bailout” idea. Put aside for the moment the fact that it’s simply false, since blue and red states alike are in desperate need of help from the federal government. By calling it that, Republicans are quite pointedly saying that they oppose such state assistance on the grounds that it would provide too much help to suffering people who might be Democrats.

Here’s how Cuomo described it:

Don’t help New York because it is a Democratic state. How ugly a thought. Just think of what he’s saying. People died, 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democrats, so why should we help them? I mean, for crying out loud, if there was ever a time for you to put aside your pettiness and your partisanship and this political lens that you see the world through — Democrat or Republican, and we help Republicans but we don’t help Democrats — that’s not who we are. That’s just now who we are as a people. If there’s ever a time for humanity and decency, now is the time.

Try to imagine the thermonuclear freakout that would occur among Republicans and the conservative media if Nancy Pelosi suggested that red states are unworthy of help at a moment of national crisis.

Cuomo also made another important point: His state in particular sends far more in taxes to the federal government than it gets back in federal spending, while for McConnell’s state of Kentucky, it’s the opposite.

“Senator McConnell, who’s getting bailed out here?” he said. “It’s your state that is living on the money that we generate. Your state is getting bailed out, not my state.”

There are a number of ways to measure that. No matter how you do it, however, the basic point stands. In an analysis from the Tax Foundation, Kentucky ranked fifth in the proportion of its state budget provided by the federal government, for things including Medicaid, education, transportation and housing. New York ranked 24th. While there were red and blue states at both ends, the most dependent states were Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee.

Or looked at another way, according to this analysis from the Rockefeller Institute of Government, in 2018 Kentucky received $2.41 in federal spending for every dollar in taxes it sent to Washington, while New York received only 91 cents. There’s also this scorecard from WalletHub, which puts Kentucky as the fifth-most-“dependent” state, and New York as the 25th.

How much the federal government spends in each state is a combination of many factors, including the amount of poverty a state has (which will determine how much is spent on Medicaid and other support programs) and the number of military facilities and government contractors located there. But the simple fact is that every state gets enormous support from Washington, especially relatively poor states such as Kentucky.

So it’s utterly bonkers that helping states weather this crisis should be a partisan issue at all. Yet now, thanks to McConnell, it is — and he’ll no doubt succeed in convincing at least some people that we should let every state government go down the tubes because that will really stick it to the libs.

I realize we’ve all gotten used to Donald Trump acting like he’s the president only of people who support him, and the rest of us can go to hell. But the idea that the collapse of any state government might be acceptable if there are enough people from the other party who live there should still make every one of us, Republican or Democrat, utterly disgusted.

So what if, for a change, we all agreed that every state, no matter how it votes, is part of the “real” America and equally worthy of help at a time of national crisis? Would that be so hard?

With severe shortages of protective equipment, nurses and other workers are having to choose between helping others and ensuring their own safety. (The Washington Post)

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