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Monday, February 23, 2009

The Media Versus Anti-Stimulus Governors

The national mainstream media has a new villain: Republican governors who may refuse their states’ shares of the recently-passed stimulus package. “Why wouldn’t you take the money?” David Gregory asked LA Gov. Bobby Jindal incredulously on Meet the Press yesterday. Across the board, media talking heads suggest Jindal and others are only playing politics and are simply thinking about their own political futures as potential presidential candidates.

But it’s entirely plausible—indeed, probable—that these governors are considering rejecting portions of the money because they care about their states’ futures, not their own. Accepting and spending the stimulus money now increases the size of state programs that will be very difficult, and practically impossible, to eliminate or reduce in the future. This essentially burdens those states with an unfunded mandate of sorts; they get the money today, but the federal government isn’t always going to be there to pump a trillion dollars of taxpayer money into the system. To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, the closest thing to eternal life here on earth is a government program. So who makes up the difference when the federal government stops priming the pump? You guessed it, state and local taxpayers.

As Robert J. Samuelson argues in his latest column, "’Temporary’ spending increases for specific programs, as opposed to block grants, will be harder to undo, worsening the long-term budget outlook [for the states].

These are important objections and the mainstream media does a disservice to the prudent and responsible governors who worry about the stimulus package’s impact on their respective states’ long term fiscal health.

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