Govenors To Discuss State Ailments

The National Governors Association meets this weekend in Biloxi, Miss. These are not easy times for state governments. Tax income is shrinking, and many states are cutting services and laying off employees. Governor Haley Barbour hosts the conference, and he talks with Renee Montagne about issues facing state leaders.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

These are not easy times for state governments. Tax revenues are shrinking, and many states are cutting services and laying off employees. The National Governor's Association meets this weekend in Biloxi, Mississippi to take up these challenges. We spoke to Mississippi's Republican governor Haley Barbour, who's hosting the conference. His state legislature managed to pass a balanced budget this month, but the governor has mixed feelings about a source of funding in that budget: the federal stimulus.

Governor HALEY BARBOUR (Republican, Mississippi): Renee, one of things that affects all of us is, of course, the federal stimulus package, part of which is budget relief for states. The problem is that a lot of that money comes with requirements of how we spend it, which leaves you with this sort of dichotomy.

This fiscal year that just started, K through 12 education will get 7.2 percent more appropriated money than ever before in history. At the same time, our Department of Public Safety will take a 6 percent cut. Despite the fact that we anticipate a revenue shortfall of $400 million, all three levels of education will have record appropriation.

MONTAGNE: Although, you know, to an outsider, that sounds like a good thing, even though you may not - it may not quite fit your priorities.

Gov. BARBOUR: Well, of course, education is our biggest priority. We spend about 63 percent of the state budget on education. But I will tell you, we would probably would've moderated that sum and had some of that money to spread out among other parts of state government, like law enforcement, like health care. But let's just say that's what the rules are and, of course, we'd play by the rules.

MONTAGNE: How is the recession affecting Mississippi? Not just the state government, but the economy in general there. This is one of the poorest states in the country to begin with.

Gov. BARBOUR: The recession started later here. December of 2007, the official start of the recession, we were still adding jobs. State revenue was still going up. But $4 gasoline clobbered us.

MONTAGNE: Let's turn back to the governors association. Right after the election, there was a great deal of talk about the - in the Republican Party that the governors would be the standard bearers, they would take the party into the future. To what degree do you think that that is happening, and what are they doing?

Gov. BARBOUR: What you see governors doing are running state governments based on the principles and values of the Republican Party. There are a lot of differences between Haley Barbour and Jim Douglas in Vermont, Butch Otter in Idaho or Linda Lingle in Hawaii. Those Republicans are controlling spending, avoiding tax increases, taking on problems like Medicaid, as we have in this state - when I became governor, Medicaid spending was going up 22 percent a year. People want programs that help people that need help, but they want those programs run right.

MONTAGNE: Governor, let me just ask you one other thing that I'm curious about. When Governor Sarah Palin resigned, she said that she was departing, at this point in time, because as a lame-duck governor, she could've just kicked back -more or less paraphrasing her - cruise through the next few months, travel. And she said this was the sort of thing other governors did in their last days in office or months in office. Is that accurate? Is that true?

Gov. BARBOUR: Well, I confess to you, I don't know anything about other Alaska governors, what they did.

MONTAGNE: Well, I think she was talking about governors, generally.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Gov. BARBOUR: I can't comment on what might be the tradition up there, but in my case, I find myself pretty busy.

MONTAGNE: Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi. He'll be hosting the National Governors Association Annual Meeting in Biloxi this weekend. Thank you very much for joining us.

Gov. BARBOUR: Yes, ma'am, Renee. Thank you.

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