LaPORTE —  As an attorney who represents several local government entities, it was just a week ago that I was closely following negotiations on the COVID 3.5 package and had become very hopeful that Saturday, April 18. Why?

Because both the non-partisan National Association of Counties and the non-partisan Association of Indiana Counties (AIC) had just sent emails out to members backing the Pelosi/Schumer package of aid to local government entities which was being included in the latest Covid-19 relief bill that would also extend the Paycheck Protection program and provide needed aid to hospitals and additional testing. Why, even the president’s chief negotiator, Steve Mnuchin, had signaled he would not oppose this cash infusion to America’s cities, towns and counties that are on the front lines of this country’s fight against the COVID-19 virus. 
 
The plan was simple and straightforward. The allocation was based strictly on population and so of the $29.5 billion set aside for America’s counties, $596 million was to be allocated to Indiana’s 92 counties. LaPorte County, based on our 110,000 population, was in line for an immediate cash infusion of $9,743,450 to help us deal not only with COVID-19 related expenses but make up for significant lost tax revenues during this crisis. Cash-starved local government entities throughout Indiana and throughout the country stood on the brink that weekend of a much needed “bailout” by the federal government. 
 
And then along came Mitch. That’s right, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose insane hatred of local government is only matched by his utter disdain for Minority Leader Chuck  Schumer. By Tuesday morning, April 21, McConnell’s negotiators had told Pelosi and Schumer that if they still wanted help for local hospitals and additional testing dollars, they’d have to drop the local government distribution, so that cities, towns and counties around the country would receive not a single dime in this relief package. In fact, McConnell was quoted on April 22 as saying he’d rather let state governments declare bankruptcy and would “oppose additional aid for state and local governments in future coronavirus relief bills.”  (Source:  CBS News, April 23, 2020).
 
Mind you, Mitch McConnell had no problem allocating $450 billion in no-strings-attached bailout money for some of the largest hotel chains, airlines and cruise lines in the world in the CARES Act, but he worked to strip every dollar meant for local government from this latest COVID-19 relief bill.  Even President Trump tweeted as late as Tuesday, April 21, that once this most recent package was signed, he wanted to begin discussions about legislation for “fiscal relief to state/local governments for lost revenues from COVID-19.” 
 
As much as this Democratic partisan would like to blame the president for this, I can’t. There’s every indication that had McConnell not objected, the White House would have gone along with the Pelosi/Schumer relief plan for local government. Mitch McConnell, with his insane hatred of both Chuck Schumer and local government, was the heart-breaking veto on a much-needed deal for local governments across Indiana, where cash-strapped EMS, health departments, law enforcement and EMA departments are on the front lines fighting this virus.
 
With the failure of the COVID 3.5 Act to include any money for local government, the only major pot of funds local governments can pursue now is the $2.4 billion designated for Indiana in the CARES Act. Of that, the governor has discretion on designating up to 45% of the total to local government, but there are tough restrictions in the CARES Act on what qualifies as a reimbursable expense and every dollar will have to be vetted by the new Indiana Relief and Recovery Committee before distribution is made. By contrast, the money that was designated in the Pelosi/Schumer Plan – backed by NACO and the Association of Indiana counties – would have meant an immediate, no-strings-attached distribution to cash-starved Indiana cities, towns and counties.
 
Mitch McConnell only believes in restrictions and impediments when it comes to distributions to local government. He couldn’t stomach a measly $29.5 billion for America’s counties, yet he greased the skids for the $450 billion bailout of airlines, hotel chains and cruise ships in the CARES Act.  Despite many of those same corporations undertaking stock buybacks and paying obscene executive compensation, few of them used bailouts after the 2008 recession to increase wages or payroll.   

Even the president’s well-honed populist instincts tell him that’s wrong; he declared on March 25, “I don’t want to give a bailout to a company and then have somebody go out and use that money to buy back stock in the company and raise the stock price and then get a bonus. So I may be a Republican, but I don’t like that. I want them to use the money for the workers.”

You will never hear such sentiments expressed by McConnell. In reality, it’s the wily and unprincipled Mitch McConnell who tells the White House how things are going to be and once again local governments around the country get nothing, while McConnell’s corporate buddies get the bailouts. 

Just 10 days ago, those of us who represent county governments in Indiana could practically touch that $596 million that was coming here to support our first responders and those on the front lines. And just like that – poof – in an instant, it was all gone because of the whims of one power-mad Senate majority leader. 

Shaw Friedman serves as LaPorte County attorney and represents other local government entities.  He is a longtime HPI contributor.