Stimulus: Bryant’s ‘Trojan Horse’ reasoning is hollow

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Trojan Horse? Really?

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said last week he’ll back Gov. Haley Barbour if Barbour rejects $50 million due to Mississippi in the $787 billion federal stimulus bill. The money is a fraction of the $2.5 billion expected to flow to the state treasury and is for expanded unemployment checks.

The position of the two Republicans is that new qualifications to receive checks will be far more generous than existing law in Mississippi and, further, that once the federal money runs out, it will be up to the state’s employers to keep paying for a wider array of claims.

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“I also want to make sure the stimulus package does not turn out to be a Trojan Horse that will unleash burdensome federal mandates on the hard-working taxpayers of Mississippi,” Bryant said in a prepared statement.

The lieutenant governor, as head of the Senate, is in a key position. It appears state legislatures can override any decisions governors make about stimulus money. Here, House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, would thump Barbour and take the money in a second — but without the Senate, that won’t happen.

But what’s more interesting here is this seemingly sudden awareness that Congress sets policies — or indeed makes laws — for states.

The most memorable examples are in the arena of law enforcement, where Bryant’s resume shows he has worked. All states had the “choice” of setting the blood-alcohol threshold where it is, .08 percent, or refuse federal highway dollars. The same leverage was applied when the minimum age for alcohol consumption was set at 21 years and when seatbelt use became mandatory.

In ways large and small, obvious and not-so-obvious, the states have been “guided” regarding the content of their law books for many, many years.

Our view is the stimulus money should be accepted. If the door to jobless claims is opened too wide and if, in years to come, federal dollars dry up, lawmakers should have the fortitude to narrow eligibility to a rational, affordable level.

But this Trojan Horse thing? Sorry. The claim that Congress shouldn’t be setting state policy when Congress has been setting state policy in myriad contexts for decades is thin reasoning, to say the least.