For a while now, Gov. Jim Justice has been publicly pinning his hopes on covering a projected $350 million shortfall in West Virginia’s budget with federal relief funds for the economic stall out caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, the latest round of funding expressly forbids state governments from doing just that. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recently suggested states should just seek bankruptcy protection rather than look for a federal bailout. Republican and Democratic governors have been loudly critical of McConnell’s idea, with good reason.
Justice is hopeful things will change, saying in his press briefing Thursday he couldn’t go into the “inside baseball” of it all, but he had reason to believe there will be more relief funding that will help the states out. West Virginians probably wouldn’t mind hearing whatever details the governor chose not to go into. A vague promise that everything will be OK after the federal government denied states from using aid to fix their budgets isn’t very reassuring.
Such funding is certainly vital in a place like West Virginia, where the government provides so many crucial services and employs so many people. Bankruptcy would be devastating to a state economy that was hardly booming before the pandemic came along.
The most galling thing about McConnell’s bankruptcy idea was the reasoning behind it, which he gave during a radio interview earlier this week, saying he didn’t want future generations to be indebted because money had to be borrowed to keep state governments whole now. McConnell certainly had no compunction about saddling future generations with unreal debt when he was approving corporate tax cuts that have ballooned the federal deficit to record highs. McConnell is fine with debt if it’s helping wealthy donors and soulless corporations, but not when it comes to keeping governments afloat so they can provide vital services.
McConnell is probably going to have to rethink that strategy, because powerful governors on both sides of the aisle are furious. Here’s hoping McConnell redoes the political calculus, and that Justice’s belief in a fix to give states relief funds is founded in reality.