U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is urging the Biden administration to account for how hundreds of billions of COVID-19 relief dollars were spent.
The Florida Republican last week sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office seeking details of how state and local governments spent $350 billion allotted to them by President Joe Biden’s much-ballyhooed American Rescue Plan.
Fortune magazine recently provided one example of why Rubio is concerned about this issue.
It seems Broward County officials used some of the $140 million it received in Rescue Plan funding to break ground on what those officials describe as an “upscale 800-room headquarters hotel” that will be part of the county Convention Center complex. The hotel will offer “views of the Atlantic Ocean and an 11,000-square-foot spa,” said Fortune.
In his letter, Rubio noted the Rescue Plan was intended to “mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the public health emergency.”
“It was an unprecedented allocation of emergency federal funding to state and local entities, which many of my colleagues and I warned would become a slush fund plagued by mismanagement and abuse,” Rubio added. “Unfortunately, recent reports have uncovered the exact kind of irresponsible actions we feared.”
The senator argued that by knowing where the money went, taxpayers will “benefit from full transparency and Congress can protect against further waste and abuse.”
Rubio noted that the Rescue Plan came with “broad guardrails” to guide state and local governments. Their efforts were designed to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and “its negative economic effects on communities, providing additional supports to essential workers, replacing lost or delayed revenues, and making certain infrastructure investments.” The Treasury Department also outlined some “flexibility” in the spending rules.
Yet, he added, “The stories of waste and abuse are piling up.”
“States and localities have reportedly used the money to renovate baseball stadiums, replace golf course irrigation systems, push new local marketing campaigns to attract tourists, revamp websites, and fund construction of a luxury hotel,” he wrote.
“Regardless of how much flexibility some in our legislative body may have wanted to attach to these hundreds of billions of dollars, few can argue that this is what Congress had in mind.”
As proof, Fortune offered details of other initiatives.
Dutchess County, New York, plopped down $12 million of its relief aid to renovate a minor league baseball stadium so as to meet requirements for farm teams of the New York Yankees.
In Massachusetts, state lawmakers doled out $5 million to pay off debts of the financially strapped Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate in Boston.
“Reports of outrageous and wasteful spending come at the same time the Biden Administration demands additional funding for COVID-related programs,” Rubio said.
“During a time of soaring prices, continued supply chain challenges, and other disruptions to our economy, taxpayers and lawmakers must have transparency into how this funding is being used.”
As we might expect with such cases, this boon for state and local governments is little more than a boondoggle for taxpayers.