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Governors discuss plans for stimulus spending

The National Governors Assn. begins its three-day meeting with talk of using federal funds to fix the nation's ailing infrastructure. The money will be only a down payment toward repairs, they say.

February 22, 2009|Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The nation's governors, battered by plunging tax revenues and growing budget deficits in their states, converged Saturday on Washington and outlined their plans to spend billions of federal dollars coming their way from President Obama's economic stimulus package.

The governors said the money would be only a down payment toward fixing the country's crumbling infrastructure. Some predicted that the economies in their states would worsen.

The economy was at the forefront as the three-day National Governors Assn. meeting got underway, but an apparent rift in Republican ranks over the stimulus threatened to dominate Saturday's opening sessions.

Some prominent Republican governors, including Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, Mississippi's Haley Barbour and South Carolina's Mark Sanford, said they would reject portions of the stimulus funding, putting them at odds with their GOP counterparts from California and Florida.

Asked about Jindal's and Barbour's pledges to turn away stimulus funds aimed at expanding state unemployment insurance, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "You just tell them that anyone that doesn't want to take the money, I'm ready to take their money and rebuild California."

The governors are gathering as many are laying off state workers and making difficult cuts to services to help balance their budgets. They met with some of Obama's Cabinet secretaries Saturday and will attend a black-tie dinner tonight at the White House. Monday morning, they will meet with Obama.

Most governors made the trip, but two were notably absent: Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska), whose office said she was busy with the state legislative session, and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-New Mexico), who withdrew last month as Obama's nominee for Commerce secretary amid a federal "pay-to-play" inquiry.

Others generated attention in the hallways between meetings. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-Kan.) was hounded with questions about her prospects to become Obama's health secretary nominee. She demurred, repeatedly telling reporters, "I don't have any comments."

The governors are pushing an agenda to rebuild ailing roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa.) said the stimulus was just one step toward that goal.

"This doesn't get us off the hook," said Rendell, chairman of the governors association. "This helps us; it stops us from having massive layoffs, incredible reductions in services that would expose our citizens to tremendous personal risks.

"We understand that we have to use this money quickly."

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