Trying to avoid the fray, DeWine pleads for federal help for cities and states

By: - August 14, 2020 12:30 am

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday tried to stay out of Washington’s political battles while making an impassioned plea for federal assistance to state and local governments.

Negotiations over a coronavirus-relief bill have been stalemated since last month, when a $600-a-week federal supplement to unemployment checks expired. While the Democratically controlled House passed a $3 trillion relief bill May 15, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, didn’t propose a $1 trillion alternative until late July — even then conceding that he likely didn’t have the votes to pass it.

That left congressional Democrats negotiating with the White House. A major sticking point between them is a Democratic demand for more than $900 billion in assistance to state and local governments whose revenues have plummeted as COVID-19 has suffocated economic activity.

The impasse appeared likely to grind on into September as Congress prepared to leave town Thursday with no talks scheduled and party conventions slated for the coming weeks.

At a press conference Thursday, DeWine again declined to say whether he supported the Democrats’ demand or name a lesser amount of federal aid to state and local governments he would support.

“I spent 20 years in the United States Congress,” the former senator said, “I had my chance to be there and vote and to have an opinion.”

However, the Ohio governor made it crystal clear that cities, towns and states need help.

“This coronavirus has been devastating to many, many, many people,” he said. “One of the fears that I think we all have is that the cities are going to run low on money for the police. The cities are going to run low on money for fire. These are big concerns. We should be concerned about where we’re going to be in the state with regard to education.”

DeWine also said that the state needs more money simply to deal with the coronavirus so the economy can start functioning more fully.

“We need to double and double again our testing,” he said. “That’s not going to be cheap. We’ve tried to do it as cheaply as we can, but that’s going to cost money.”

Ohio’s Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown, supports the state and local assistance package his party is advocating.

“Sen. Brown supports $900 billion in new, flexible funding for state and local governments, including local governments in Ohio,” his office said in an email. “These local governments are hurting due to COVID-19 and are facing tough decisions like raising taxes on Ohioans who are hurting, or laying off workers and cutting services people rely on, because President Trump has failed from day one to show any leadership and get Ohio communities and families the help they need amid a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.”

The office of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio — who in 2017 voted for a $2 trillion tax cut weighed heavily toward corporations and the wealthy — didn’t respond to questions Thursday about whether he supported coronavirus relief for states and cities. 

For his part, DeWine urged Congress to get moving and praised Trump for a series of moves last Saturday.

“There’s a bill to be had out there,” he said. “I’m confident that there can be a bill. I think what the president did was the right thing. He tried to move the debate. He came out with a proposal that said, ‘If you won’t move, I’ll move.’ But we all know, executive orders on spending are blunt instruments and it’s much better if Congress does what only Congress can do and that’s pass a bill and get it done.”

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.