Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’ll only support sending more federal funds to state and local governments if the money is spent on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and governors across the country have been pleading with Congress to prop up struggling state budgets during the pandemic amid a massive decline in income and sales tax revenues—taxpayers are making and spending less money.
During a press conference in Louisville on Tuesday, McConnell said that Congress will likely consider another coronavirus relief bill, and it might include financial assistance for states, but he wants it to be directly related to COVID-19.
“There’s a great reluctance among Republicans in the Congress—both House and Senate—to basically borrow money that’ll have to be paid back by future generations to allow states to paper over preexisting financial problems,” McConnell said.
McConnell has criticized proposals to send more money to state governments as “blue state bailouts,” though states controlled by both political parties have been hit hard by the pandemic’s financial fallout.
He’s also suggested that states be allowed to go bankrupt, a statement he said on Tuesday he wasn’t really pushing for.
“It’s an interesting discussion point but I wasn’t necessarily advocating for it, just saying it ought to be an option,” McConnell said.
State and some local governments already received an infusion of cash early on in the pandemic—Kentucky received $1.6 billion—but the funds are directly tied to coronavirus-related expenses like lab testing, public safety and paying public workers responding to the outbreak.
Meanwhile Kentucky is bracing for budget cuts after the official estimate for how much money the state is going to bring in by the end of June was revised downward by $457 million. And state officials predict revenue will drop another 10 to 17 percent over the six months after that.
Earlier this month, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill that included assistance for state budgets, another round of cash payments to citizens and hazard pay for workers responding to the pandemic.
McConnell has said the House bill won’t be considered in the Senate and that he is crafting another measure that will be unveiled “in the next month or so” dealing with limited funding and shielding businesses from some lawsuits during the pandemic.
“Liability reform related to this coronavirus pandemic that begins at a certain time and ends at a certain time, can reassure these folks that they’re not going to be hit with an avalanche of lawsuits in the wake of this,” McConnell said.
The press conference on Tuesday is the first time McConnell has appeared publicly in Kentucky since March 13 at the beginning of the pandemic.
McConnell said he thought it was good Kentucky is beginning to open up during the pandemic and encouraged people to wear masks, practice social distancing and other guidelines.
“If you’re in a certain age group and have certain preexisting conditions, maybe you ought not to be going out already,” McConnell said.
McConnell is 78 years-old and seeking his 7th term in the U.S. Senate this year.