Democratic Governors Visit White House

Republican governors have been all over the news this week. Many are in high-stakes disputes with the public service workers union as the states try to balance their budgets. The Democratic governors face similar budget problems, and Friday they went to the White House to talk about solutions more palatable to their party.

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President Obama met with the nation's Democratic governors today. They talked about steps the states can take, along with the federal government, to encourage job growth.

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the governors, along with their Republican counterparts, are here in Washington for an annual meeting.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Statehouses in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana have become battlegrounds in recent days as Republican governors take on unions representing government workers over benefits and collective bargaining rights. But Democratic governors say those politically charged showdowns are really a sideshow.

Martin O'Malley of Maryland, who heads the Democratic Governors Association, says most state chief executives take a practical approach to their jobs.

Governor MARTIN O'MALLEY (Democrat, Maryland): All of us get things done. We're about getting things done. We're not primarily an ideological group of people.

HORSLEY: O'Malley is one of more than a dozen Democratic governors who met today with President Obama and Vice President Biden. Before the meeting, governors were asked to survey businesspeople in their states about what it would take to encourage the private sector to hang out more help-wanted signs.

Gov. O'MALLEY: Our business leaders in all of our states understand the most important priority we have right now as a country is to create jobs.

HORSLEY: Democratic governors' strategy for fostering job growth sounds a lot like President Obama's: Make sure companies can get the credit they need, keep government regulations reasonable and provide employers with a well-trained workforce.

North Carolina Governor Bev Purdue says that last one is particularly important.

Governor BEV PURDUE (Democrat, North Carolina): The investment in education from preschool all the way through the university is actually synonymous with a healthy and vibrant global economy.

HORSLEY: Democratic governors say building a better transportation network would also help with construction jobs now and faster deliveries later. But O'Malley says the federal government has to do its part.

Gov. O'MALLEY: There is no way we can build new roads or rail or transit infrastructure if we don't get a long-term authorization out of Congress for transportation, critically important to our economy.

HORSLEY: After their meeting at the White House this morning, governors planned to sit down with a group of business leaders this afternoon.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell says the would-be employers he talks to want to see more cooperation in Washington.

Governor JACK MARKELL (Democrat, Delaware): I have not had a single businessperson say to me that they want the federal government re-fighting the fights of the last two years about health care. What they want us focused on is what are we going to do to create jobs. I can tell you coming out of this meeting with the president, that's exactly where he is.

HORSLEY: State government's own payrolls took a hit last year. Governors were forced to cut thousands of jobs in an effort to balance their budgets, even as private employers were adding more than a million workers.

A new report from the Commerce Department today showed state government spending cuts were a drag on the U.S. economy late last year as the estimate of fourth-quarter growth was revised downward.

Unlike the federal government, states can't run a deficit. But Maryland Governor O'Malley says politicians should be careful about what they cut.

Gov. O'MALLEY Being fiscally responsible is part of that. We have to balance our budgets. We have to address costs. But we also have to move forward at the same time.

HORSLEY: President Obama will have a chance to hear from Republican governors this weekend, when he hosts a dinner for the National Governors Association. He and the vice president also plan to meet with a bipartisan group of governors on Monday.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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