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Biden and Mo GOP on same page: Stimulus not meant for state tax cuts, refunds

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 8, 2009 - Vice President Joe Biden poured cold water Monday on the actions of various states, including Missouri, to use federal stimulus money to keep the flow of state services -- or state money -- to their residents.

In Missouri's case, Gov. Jay Nixon (who recently shared a Washington pro-stimulus roundtable with Biden) has used $250 million in federal stimulus money to cover tax refunds due to state taxpayers. Nixon budget officials have said he had no choice, because of the state and national economic problems. 
That money is on top of tens of millions in stimulus dollars that the Missouri Legislature has used to fund some ongoing state services or programs, while shifting the previously appropriated state general revenue for other services into a pot of as-yet unallocated funds.

Speaking in general, Biden told regional reporters in a conference call today that the federal stimulus help to the states "was not designed for the purpose of them doing nothing to hire more people,'' or to "cut their tax rates."

"This (stimulus aid) is designed to keep people from being hurt'' further by the recession, Biden continued.

The vice president added that he did understand that "states have taken a gigantic hit with this worldwide recession."

Biden's comments immediately were followed by an e-mail jab at Nixon from the Missouri Republican Party:

“Obviously, we are glad that the state has finally returned the money that rightfully belongs to the taxpayers,'' said state GOP executive director Lloyd Smith in a statement.

"But if Jay Nixon had done his job and properly managed the budget, we never would have gotten to the point of requiring a federal bailout to pay for tax refunds.

"Nixon has purposely avoided making tough decisions,'' Smith continued. "By refusing to tighten his belt or cut spending on things he couldn’t otherwise afford, Nixon must now spend $250 million in federal funds on tax refunds — money that should have gone towards job creation.”

The state GOP took note of a critical story Sunday in the Springfield News-Leader, in which several members of Missouri's congressional delegation raised concerns about Nixon's use of the stimulus money for refunds.

However, Biden also emphasized during the hour-long call that the federal government has spent stimulus money on federal tax cuts, increased food assistance to the poor, expansion of Medicaid health-care coverage and expanded unemployment insurance. Some top state Republicans have opposed some of that spending, especially on Medicaid and unemployment insurance.

Biden also questioned why Republican governors in Texas and South Carolina have objected to taking the federal money. "I'm a bit of a loss as to the rationale,'' the vice president observed.

During the telephone news conference, Biden unveiled a new federal website -- www.whitehouse.gov/stimulus -- where the public can track stimulus spending. Although the information now available on the site is limited, Biden said that it soon should offer state-by-state and zip code-by-zip code tracking of the money.

Biden began the conference call by emphasizing the administration's message that it believes that the stimulus spending has saved at least 150,000 jobs and will provide 600,000 new jobs over the summer.

Among the projects singled out: Tom Carnahan's wind-mill farm near Jefferson City. Biden stopped by the operation during his visit to Missouri this spring.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.