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Zirpoli: The states that are givers and takers of federal dollars may surprise

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is concerned about “bailing out” states who are deeply in debt due to the costs associated with COVID-19. In particular, he stated that he is concerned about “blue state bailouts.” But McConnell may regret drawing attention to this issue. If any state in our nation is getting bailed out by the federal government, it is Kentucky, not New York.

The myth of traditionally Democratic states needing to be “propped up” as former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan once stated, is a topic that Republicans leading states may want to shy away from. The same goes for the recent statement from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when he said, “We are getting the federal government out of the business of subsidizing states.” I hope Mnuchin checked with Sen. McConnell before he made that statement since Kentucky is usually first in line when it comes to federal subsidies.

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A 2017 study by the Rockefeller Institute of Government found that traditional blue states like Connecticut ($15,643), Massachusetts ($13,582), New Jersey ($13,137), New York ($12,820), and California ($10,510), contributed significantly more in federal taxes, per citizen, than traditional red states like Mississippi ($5,740), West Virginia ($6,349), Kentucky ($6,626), and South Carolina ($6,665).

Not only do some states contribute more to the federal budget than others, but some also receive less from the federal government in return. On average, each of our 50 states receives about $1.14 from the federal government for every tax dollar they send to Washington.

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This is why our federal government runs a deficit every year. The traditional red states mentioned above, however, receive more — much more. For example, Mississippi received $2.13 for every tax dollar it sends to Washington by way of federal taxes, West Virginia $2.07, Kentucky $1.90, and South Carolina $1.71.

For some large traditional blue states, California receives only 96 cents, Massachusetts 83 cents, Connecticut 82 cents, New York 81 cents, and New Jersey 74 cents for every tax dollar they sent to Washington. The discrepancy is significant.

In a 2020 update from the Rockefeller Institute, the disparity between traditional blue and red states is even more significant, especially for the state of New York, Republicans' favorite target when it comes to budgets, taxes, and spending.

“New York continues to spend more in (federal) taxes than it received back. In 2018, we estimate $22 billion, which is larger than the next two states. Over the past four years, New York taxpayers have given $116 billion (an average of over $29 billion annually) more to the federal government than they received back in federal spending” the report states.

In fact, New York contributes more revenue to the federal budget than any state in the nation. Other blue states, such as New Jersey, comes in second place, Massachusetts third, Connecticut fourth, and Colorado fifth.

According to the Rockefeller Institute, only eight out of our 50 states send more to the federal government than they receive in return. The top six are traditional blue states and include New York ($22 billion), New Jersey ($12 billion), Massachusetts ($9 billion), Connecticut ($8 billion), Colorado ($2 billion), and Minnesota ($725 million). The other two are the traditional red states of Utah ($511 million) and Nebraska ($315 million).

In 2020, the people of Kentucky are projected to receive about $48 billion more from the federal government than they pay in federal taxes. Their surplus in federal spending matches Maryland (also at $48 billion), but is skewed due to our proximity to Washington and the federal offices located here. The data from other states, such as Virginia ($97 billion), are also skewed due to the large military installations based there.

Because of the population disparity between New York and Kentucky, the numbers are even more telling when we look at per capita distributions of federal money to each state. The average New York citizen pays about $1,125 more in federal taxes than they receive in federal funding (Medicaid, Medicare, etc.) compared to the people of Kentucky who receive on average $10,110 more per person in federal payments than they pay in federal taxes. That’s an $11,235 differential.

Perhaps the senator from Kentucky would like to thank the generous people of New York and other Democratic Party strongholds for subsidizing the good people of his state. He should at least consider the consequences for our nation and for his state if the largest revenue contributors to the federal government were to, as he suggested, declare bankruptcy and stop contributing to his state’s socialism.

Tom Zirpoli is the program coordinator of the Human Services Management program at McDaniel College. His column appears on Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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