House Democrats will soon detail plans to get federal aid to state and local governments to help them weather the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said today.
Provisions will include tax-advantaged borrowing programs, known as private activity bonds and Build America Bonds, Neal told members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors during a Zoom conversation. A former mayor himself, Neal said he also favors revenue-sharing arrangements similar to those of the 1980s.
More particulars of the proposal should come out in the next few days, or certainly within the next week, he said.
“We are going to insist on our side that this package include direct assistance to all of you,” he said, referring to a possible fourth round of economic assistance for the nation.
State and local governments are hemorrhaging tax revenue, damaging their budgets, and their leaders are warning of layoffs and cuts to services they provide such as policing, other emergency response services and education as a result.
Earlier rounds of federal legislation have focused on aid for businesses and workers but haven’t extended direct assistance to state and local budgets. While Democrats in Congress are pressing for direct help for states, cities and counties, Republican leaders have resisted, with some accusing certain states of mismanaging their budgets for years.
Multiple mayors on the call asked Neal to stress to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the revenue losses they’re suffering are directly tied to the coronavirus. The red ink can be documented easily, they said, which means they can limit federal assistance to filling that gap alone and not extend the aid more broadly to other programs, such as pension obligations.
Neal said he has a “good working relationship” with Mnuchin and other cabinet officials and that he hopes to avoid a fight over funding for city halls and statehouses.
“We don’t want this to become one of those contentious moments,” Neal said.
In the absence of direct aid from Congress, the Federal Reserve has taken steps to help state and local governments by buying their bonds since the pandemic took hold of the U.S. economy, a backstop meant to keep issuance flowing while keeping costs from ballooning.
Neal also encouraged the mayors to continue pushing for federal investments in infrastructure, noting an invitation from Mnuchin to keep discussing that issue.