Reuters reporter Andy Sullivan has a piece today that all but accuses the Obama administration of cutting discretionary federal grants to red states more than blue ones for political reasons.
For the analysis, Reuters divided the U.S. into three categories: Republican-leaning "red" states where Obama got less than 45 percent of the vote in the 2012 election; competitive "purple" states where he won between 45 percent and 55 percent of the vote; and Democratic-leaning "blue" states where he won more than 55 percent of the vote.
Red, purple and blue states have all shouldered steep spending cuts after a 2011 budget deal, the analysis found. But those cuts have not been doled out evenly.
Discretionary grant funding to red states like Mississippi fell by 40 percent to $15 billion between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2013, the most recent year for which reliable figures are available. Purple states like Ohio and North Carolina saw a smaller drop of 27 percent, to $19.8 billion, and blue states saw a yet-smaller drop of 22.5 percent, to $27.6 billion. (The tally does not include disaster aid handed out after Hurricane Sandy, which went largely to blue states like New Jersey.)
The disparity doesn't show up in payments like Medicaid that are distributed through pre-set formulas. It also does not appear in Obama's 2009 recession-fighting Recovery Act. It only shows up in federal aid that is most directly controlled by the administration: "project grants," which are doled out on a competitive basis by career civil servants and political appointees.
Of course, many factors other than politics come into play. Some states aren't good at writing grant proposals - researchers at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, for example, found that poor planning has hurt that state's ability to compete for federal dollars. A governor from an oil-producing state may be less inclined to pursue green-energy grants.
But the disparity can't be fully explained by these factors. At Reuters' request, Hudak ran a statistical analysis of spending over this period, controlling for differences in population, economy, percentage of elderly residents, miles of federal highway and the number of research universities and hospitals.
Red states still came up short. After 2011, the average red state got 15 percent fewer grants and 1.3 percent fewer grant dollars than the average swing state. That comes out to roughly 500 grants and $15 million for an average-sized red state like Tennessee - enough to pay for 115 additional police officers or upgrade a rural airport to handle larger planes.
All of this seems pretty odd until you remember that the Senate gave up earmarks in 2011 under this same budget deal, and oh yes, Sullivan does admit that previous presidents played the same game.
This approach isn't unique to Obama. Under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Hudak found that purple states got about 7.3 percent more grants and 5.7 percent more grant dollars than states that were firmly in one camp.
So federal grant money goes towards presidential swing states? Whoever would have guessed that?