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McConnell sings bluegrass bailout blues

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks with reporters on April 21, 2020. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s diatribe against a legislative “Blue State Bailout” last week may have been a negotiating strategy, but it opened the door to an analysis of the financial relationship between his own Kentucky and the federal government.

Monday morning, both President Donald Trump and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo jumped in the fray. First, Trump tweeted, “Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help? I am open to discussing anything, but just asking?” 

Then Cuomo, asked about Trump’s tweet, went on a prepared rant that first argued we should all be in this together and then laid out the numbers that matter if the states decide to bicker. His takeaway: “If you want to go to who’s getting bailed out and who paid what, nobody would be bailing out New York State,” Cuomo said. “If you want to do an analysis of who is a giver and who is a taker, we are the number one giver.” 

Late last week, Rep. Thomas Suozzi tweeted, “@senatemajldr to NY & States: Drop Dead. Since ’15, NY taxpayers have given the fed gov $116B more than we’ve rec’d back, while Ky has RECEIVED $148B more in fed spending then they gave. NY subsidizes KY! @NYDailyNews@NYGov.”

A 2019 report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government makes the case in more detail. 

Kentucky is second only to Virginia in reaping more from the federal government in spending than it pays in, however, Virginia only comes out on top because of the massive defense spending in that state. So Kentucky is No. 1 in pork.

Kentucky, with a state budget of just $30 billion annually, gets almost $40 billion more from the federal government than it pays in each year. Or, to put it another way, U.S. taxpayers give about $9,145 a year to each Kentuckian, according to 2017 figures. It has one of the highest food stamp recipient percentages in the nation, with 14.1% of households getting the benefit, and one of the lowest median household incomes, at $48,375 a year.

New York, on the other hand, sends the federal government an extra $35 billion a year more than it gets back in spending, losing an average of $1,792 per resident in 2017. And New York actually ranks fourth in giving more to Washington than it receives. First is Connecticut with a loss of $4,000 per capita annually, followed by New Jersey with a loss of $2,368, and Massachusetts, with a $2,343 per capita loss.

So McConnell is really singing the “Bluegrass State Bailout,” endless and astonishing.

McConnell is no stranger to fighting against funding New York’s needs. He did it repeatedly by stymieing the Zadroga Act to pay the medical expenses of 9/11 workers, he did it by fighting against aid for New York after superstorm Sandy, and he continues to do it by fighting against SALT, or the restoration of an uncapped federal deduction for state and local taxes.