BOSTON (CN) — State governments desperately need a huge bailout from Congress as a result of the pandemic, three Democratic governors told former Vice President Joe Biden in a livestream Thursday.
“Our revenues have fallen off a cliff,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who called for “deep, double-digit, billions of dollars” to keep the Garden State from losing a third of its workforce.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer reported an anticipated $3 billion shortfall this fiscal year, with an even worse deficit expected next year.
And in Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont said his state might have to cut its education budget by 20% at a time when schools will need to look at smaller class sizes and staggered instruction times.
Biden endorsed a package of $850 billion in state and local aid, saying “we need to get that out now.”
“The loss of revenue has been astounding as a result of this virus, and you have a real problem,” the former vice president told the governors. “Declining tax revenues have hit you really, really hard.”
Biden noted that the federal government can run deficits but states cannot. He called it “disturbing” that Senate Republican leaders had suggested states should go bankrupt, reminding the governors that the government spent hundreds of billions of dollars on state bailouts in the 2009 financial crisis.
Had that not happened, he said, the resulting layoffs of firefighters, teachers and police officers would have been “staggering.”
“This isn’t just some math exercise.”
Lamont said the U.S. government should come up with the money because it gave the states an “unfunded mandate” when it told them to shut down.
The governors also complained that the federal government had let them down in providing virus-related supplies. Whitmer said she had just received a large supply of testing swabs, and “we’re grateful,” but the swabs were all of one kind and the state needs numerous kinds.
The Trump administration has been “way, way, way off the mark,” Biden said, in distributing supplies.
Lamont likened the situation to “Christmas trees arriving on December 26th.” He added that, when a vaccine is developed, “I want to control the supply chain … I don’t want to be waiting for that plane from China.”
Murphy reported that New Jersey plans 20,000 virus tests a day by the end of the month, with plans to open beaches for Memorial Day weekend — something toward which Delaware, Connecticut and New York are also working.
Biden proposed a new “public health corps” for contact tracing. Murphy said that New Jersey put out a call for contact tracers and got 21,000 job applications within 24 hours.
All four politicians agreed that the crisis has given Americans a newfound appreciation of working people. “We used to call them minimum-wage workers, and now we call them essential workers,” Lamont said.
“The virus has taken the blinders off many people,” Biden added. “People didn’t realize that someone making $7 an hour … is the person who has their back.”
Whitmer said the virus is also making people aware of racism, noting that her state is 14% black but its Covid patients are 40% black.
“The virus is holding up a mirror to our society,” she said, adding that her state’s response to the disease is “focused on attacking implicit bias.”
The four Democrats said they hoped the recovery from the virus could be used to further their other priorities. Biden said it would be a good opportunity to spend $20 billion on a nationwide broadband program and create 10 million high-paying jobs in infrastructure and the environment. Whitmer called for addressing racial disparities and climate change.
Whitmer spoke just hours after another anti-shutdown rally at the Michigan state capitol where speakers called for her resignation or arrest. But Biden gave her his support and told her, “I think you’ve done a hell of a job.”