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Kansas City Mayor on stimulus: 'This isn't about left, right or blue, red — it's about doing what's right'

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to discuss the latest on stimulus negotiations, and how COVID-19 is impacting his city.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Let's talk stimulus now. Negotiations are ongoing. And one of the sticking points between Democrats and Republicans is aid to state and local municipalities. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered concessions in exchange for Democrats dropping demands for billions in economic aid for state and local governments.

Let's talk the impact of stimulus now on local municipalities. I'm joined now by the Democratic mayor of Kansas City, Quinton Lucas. Mayor Lucas, always good to have you with us. So aid to the cities is one of these thorny issues the Democrats and Republicans are navigating right now. I want to start with how necessary it is for the city of Kansas City to get economic relief. You said jokingly earlier, you guys are still broke. So talk to us more about that.

QUINTON LUCAS: Well, it is absolutely the case that in every American city, every American state, we have seen an incredible decrease in sales tax receipts, certainly hotel, motel taxes, restaurants, et cetera. What that means is that we will have very real budget gaps to fill. In Kansas City, that is about $80 million. In larger cities, it's probably a lot more. Little less in smaller ones. But that means that that is money that may be cut out of front line workers, out of first responders, now a lot of those issues.

That's why it is so important for us to look to a real stimulus, too. When we talk about keeping the economy going, it actually isn't just making sure that there's private sector employment that remains, but also public sector employment where we have seen thousands of job losses already. And I fear thousands of job losses, millions of job losses perhaps, into 2021 and 2022.

KRISTIN MYERS: So Republicans have actually called aid to states essentially a blue state bailout or that it's bailing out states that have been fiscally irresponsible. I'm wondering what you make of that charge especially since you're located in a state with a Republican governor. How are people suffering in the state of Missouri at large?

QUINTON LUCAS: Yeah, I mean, I think that's one of the more ridiculous things that I've heard. And I've heard folks say not just blue state bailouts, but blue city bailouts. I think it's heartless. I think it's shameful rhetoric. I think it is exceedingly divisive, but that's not new from some. And it is in no way actually addressing the real issues. I mean, here's the deal. I hear from a lot of my right wing lawmakers that say that blue lives matter and all that sort of stuff. Well, the fact that they're not passing a stimulus means that a lot of those blue lives may be unemployed. I hear folks that say that we care about having health care apparatus to address these issues.

Well, a lot of those are in America's cities. You go to any state, even the most conservative one or the most liberal one, and a lot of your finest hospitals, academic medicine institutions, the very folks that are getting inundated right now with COVID-19 patients are in our cities. So to me, this isn't about left-right or blue-red, it's about doing what's right.

In Kansas City, we have people that come from outstate Missouri and outstate Kansas here for medical care. This is also a centerpiece of an economy in this part of the region. That's the story for Detroit, the story for Atlanta, the story for so many other cities around our country. And so I hope we get past those types of partisan battles because, contrary to what some may believe, the election is actually over. And let's try to get to the governing side and making sure we can get people back to work and keep cities solvent.

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to ask you about another line item that is looking to be added to your budgets, which is vaccine distribution. There's no federal plan as yet. And a part of this stimulus package that's being floated out is funds for distribution of a vaccine. I'm wondering, as it stands right now, is Kansas City equipped to handle something like that financially and logistically, making sure that your residents and citizens are vaccinated?

QUINTON LUCAS: We're going to have to be. I mean, if there is a travesty of the last eight months in our country is how much we've had to see a disparate number of folks-- mayors, governors, and others-- that have had to step up in areas where the federal government is not acting. This is the same situation as we look to vaccine rollout.

We would love to have exceeding clarity and what our vaccine plans may be for the federal government identifying the distribution centers, et cetera. Instead, the current administration has taken the approach, let the states do it. And in some situations, the states have said, let the cities figure it out. We do have a positive relationship with our state. We hope that that can work as efficiently as possible.

But a few other things that are important-- you've got to make sure that you're reaching those groups that we often can't reach. Black and Brown communities, those who may be in poorer communities or are homeless, so many that really need to get access to the vaccine and where we've seen the greatest spread. I do not have confidence right now that the federal government is ready to help give that level of guidance. So we will fill whatever gap we need to. That's where the funding side is going to be very important for us.

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to ask you one last question here, mayor, and I don't have too much time with you. But I really kind of want to hammer this point home for anyone watching. Stimulus negotiations are ongoing. You might not be getting any money for quite a while. And we've been hearing from doctors earlier that December 15 could be the date that folks are going to start to get vaccinated.

So what happens by the new year in your city if you have to start vaccinating folks given that your coffers are essentially bare and you don't have any stimulus-- what happens in 2021? What kind of layoffs, what kind of cuts are you guys realistically expecting right now?

QUINTON LUCAS: It will be severe. I mean, I mentioned being broke before. I kind of grew up broke. And sometimes when you don't have enough money going in, you're making a choice. Making a choice between what you're looking to buy for food or what bill you're looking to pay or to not pay. That's where we are going to have to be. However, state and local governments have to balance their budgets, unlike the federal side. And so we will probably be looking at any number of cuts. I don't have an exact number yet. I don't even want to predict it because we don't want to be there. But you're looking at real cuts to service delivery. You're looking at real cuts to what we can provide.

But I will say this-- we will make sure the vaccine is available for people in my community. We will make sure we stop the spread. We have got to address the public health crisis first to make sure we ever get back to a point of economic health. And the fact that we've made these things seem like they're at loggerheads in America-- we haven't done that. The fact that we've seen that from the administration in too many situations is incredibly troubling and I think has been part of why this pandemic and the 280,000 plus deaths we have right now continues tragically to grow each day.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right. Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas, thanks so much for joining us today.