One of Minnesota's senators is vowing to take on the Trump Administration over how it allocates federal funding to states.
In an opinion piece published by CNN this week, Sen. Tina Smith (D) strongly suggests the federal government may be favoring "red" states over "blue" ones, pointing to the recent denial of a crucial federal grant to Minnesota.
The city of Moorhead applied for that grant under the administration's "Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development" (BUILD) program, asking for funds to build two new underpasses that would alleviate serious congestion and safety issues with a local rail crossing.
Even though she wrote to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in support of the project, Minnesota was ultimately "shut out" of the program, Smith claims.
Citing a report from Politico, Smith says this is part of a pattern in which Chao, wife of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R), met with Kentucky officials "vastly more often than those from any other state" during her first 14 months in the job.
"I work very hard to deliver for Minnesota, but I draw the line at marrying the Secretary of Transportation," Smith jokes.
But it's not just an issue with Kentucky, with Smith saying funds have been awarded to a handful of other states — Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, and North Carolina — where Republicans are facing tough senate races in 2020.
"In all, more than one-quarter of BUILD funding – a total of more than $239 million – was funneled to these six states alone," she writes.
Smith charges that other departments are up to the same conduct, saying that "disconcerting irregularities" have been found in the USDA's grant programs for farms.
(According to a a U.S. Senate report on the matter, "payment rates have not been distributed equitably between regions, counties, and even next-door neighbors, and have failed to benefit the farmers who have been hit the hardest.")
She goes on to say that farm operations in heavily red states have been given disproportionately large grants over those in blue states:
This makes no sense. The collateral damage from the Trump administration's trade policy is largely concentrated in the North, Midwest, and West – for example, as the Washington Post reported, the Trump trade wars have helped to nearly wipe out the dairy industry in Minnesota's Le Sueur County.
And yet, 95% of the counties selected to receive the top payment rate are in the South. I struggle to understand why an average-sized farm in Hancock County, Georgia, should be receiving $66,450 in payments under this program while a similar-sized farm in Sherman County, Oregon, is receiving less than $9,000.
Smith does point out that the use of taxpayer funding to "[r]eward your allies and punish your enemies" is nothing new, saying even the Obama Administration was accused of it:
"But that doesn't make it right. No matter which party they belong to, Americans want and expect government leaders to act in the best interests of the American people, not in those leaders' own selfish partisan interests."
She goes on to call on the U.S. House of Representatives to do as it did with President Donald Trump's Ukraine call, and use its oversight powers to "get to the truth":
I know that the Trump administration has demonstrated no appetite for cooperating with legitimate congressional oversight -- but they should know that I fully intend to use every mechanism at my disposal to get the answers Minnesotans deserve anyway. The Trump administration may see no problem with shortchanging Minnesotans to reward its political allies, but I refuse to let that happen on my watch.