Governors Talk Infrastructure At Annual Meeting

The National Governors Association held its annual summer meeting in Nashville, Tenn. this week, and the collapsing highway trust fund was the centerpiece issue.

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Governors from across the U.S. are gathered this weekend in Nashville for their annual summer meeting. This is their last session before the November election, and governors from both parties are united in calling on Congress to act on issues ranging from immigration to the Highway Trust Fund. NPR's Brian Naylor reports from Nashville.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Nashville calls itself Music City, home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Still, just about the only music you could hear at the National Governors Association summer meeting was the close harmony among the governors when they talked about the needs of their states. Near the top of the list is replenishing the Highway Trust Fund. Federal dollars raised largely by the gas tax pay for roughly half of the roads and bridges in each state. And that money is running out at the height of the road-building season. Congress has balked at passing a short-term measure to replenish the fund until spring. Rhode Island's Democratic governor, Lincoln Chafee, himself a former U.S. Senator, says it's no way to run a country.

GOVERNOR LINCOLN CHAFEE: It's really unfortunate. This used to be Democrats, Republicans coming together to address our infrastructure needs, and the highway bill, for whatever reason, it's just grinding like so many things in Washington - the temporary measures and brinksmanship. And you just have to have long-range planning and have the funding to have the confidence to have that long-range planning.

NAYLOR: Extending the life of the Highway Trust Fund would solve the immediate impasse so states don't see their federal dollars run out this summer. But Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado says there are still long-term issues that need addressing, such as finding a better source of money than the gas tax, which hasn't been raised in two decades and hasn't kept up with inflation.

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GOVERNOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER: As more fuel-efficient vehicles roll off the assembly lines, the amounts of gasoline sold is going to go down. It's a good thing - cleaner air. But our - most of our construction resources come from that tax. As that goes down, these problems are going to be exacerbated.

NAYLOR: Another issue the governors want Washington to address is immigration and the thousands of children who have been crossing the Southern border. It's an issue that the chair of the National Governors Association, Republican Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, has seen firsthand. Hundreds of immigrant children are being housed at Fort Sill, an Army base in her state. Fallin says it's a fluid situation.

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GOVERNOR MARY FALLIN: We have a lot of questions that we want answered about the immigrant children that are coming. And how's it going to be paid for? How much is going to cost our nation? How long are they going to stay here?

NAYLOR: Fallin is critical of the Obama administration and says security at the border needs to be strengthened. One of the president's biggest critics on the issue, Texas Governor Rick Perry, didn't attend the conference. But other governors thought to be possible presidential contenders were on hand, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, and Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland. Also present was Vice President Joe Biden who addressed the governors staying away from partisan issues but decrying the atmosphere in Washington.

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VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The way things have gotten today - and I'm not singling out any party or any group of people - just the politics, the culture in Washington now, has become, you know, too personal. It's too corrosive.

NAYLOR: And while the governors look to Washington for help on issues, Biden employed the governors to, as he put it, lead us out of this mess. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Nashville.

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