Governors Set Their Caps For Jobs, Economy

This past week, the National Governors Association elected Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire as its new chairwoman. Gregoire, a Democrat, will finish the term of Democratic West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, who was elected to the U.S. Senate. Host Liane Hansen talks with Gregoire about the top legislative priorities of the nation's governors.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This past week, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire was elected as the new chairwoman of the National Governors Association. She joins us from the annual meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Welcome back to the program, Governor.

Governor CHRIS GREGOIRE (D-WA, Chairwoman, National Governors Association): It's good to see you, good to be with you. Thank you.

HANSEN: As you speak to your fellow governors there, what would you say are some of the top legislative priorities and goals?

Gov. GREGOIRE: Well, we've got a record number of new governors, 29 governor-elects. So we're talking now to these governor-elects as to what their priorities need to be, to include how do you manage through the crisis budget with an eye towards, you know, we're in a global economy now, and how do we prepare ourselves as we come out of this deep recession to compete in that global economy? How do we make sure we're creating jobs, not just for today but for tomorrow?

So it's a good conversation, really about what a new governor is going to face here in historic times.

HANSEN: What's been the reaction among the governors you represent to implementing health care overhaul, including the planned expansion of Medicaid?

Gov. GREGOIRE: Well, you know, what we're trying to do is find common ground. Unfortunately, as we look to D.C., there's divisiveness on the issue of health care reform. We, as governors, have to implement it. We're the ones responsible on the ground. So we're looking for common ground, which is what my association is known for.

There isn't a governor here that doesn't understand if we don't get our arms around inflation in health care, we're never going to be able to spend money on education, which is our priority. So we're trying to work together now. How do we get that done? What's our vision of how to make it happen? How do we implement health care in a way that we want it done in the states, not the way that maybe somebody in Washington, D.C. wants it done, 'cause we believe we know best what will really work on the ground.

HANSEN: Is there enough coordination, in your opinion, between the federal government and the states to support the goals of these governors?

Gov. GREGOIRE: You know, we're very fortunate, candidly, to have some former governors who are members of the cabinet. And I am absolutely convinced that Secretary Napolitano, Secretary Vilsack, Secretary Sebelius are doing a great job with the administration of talking about partnering with governors. Because we don't have the luxury of saying we're going to print more money. We have to have a balanced budget.

We have the people that are at our doorstep everyday who are unemployed, looking to put food on the table and a roof over themselves. And so we're on the ground making tough decisions every day, and we need of support of our federal government. But we also need the recognition that we really do know what's best for our citizens.

So rather than a cookie-cutter approach, give us flexibility to implement, whether it's health care, whether it's economic development, in a way that meets the needs of our states.

HANSEN: With a 29 new governors and, as you said, that's going to be the largest incoming class - one of them - in American history. Do they face special challenges?

Gov. GREGOIRE: Yes, 29 new governor-elects. The closest to it was 1920 in which there were 27. And they do face some unique circumstances, both with regard to the financial crisis that we face and the global competition that we're involved in right now. And at the same time, as I've tried to tell my colleagues, you know, I've declared more disaster emergencies than at any time in history. Because it's either drought or flood and we're all very aware of the security issues that we face as a nation.

HANSEN: One question about your own state, Governor Gregoire. We spoke in December of 2009 at a time when you were facing a serious budget shortfall. And you were hoping that some better signs of job recovery would begin in the second quarter of 2010. And perhaps by late 2010, you might see a small uptick in the state revenue. How is it going?

Gov. GREGOIRE: Well, it's not going well at all, to be honest with you. As predicted, interestingly enough, we did see an uptick in the second quarter of 2010. And then we saw a dramatic decline in the third quarter. And now, in the fourth quarter, even a greater declined.

So I was met this week with a revenue forecast shortfall for the rest of this fiscal year of a $385 million. That is very, very difficult to make up and cut that amount by June 30, because we have to have a balanced budget.

So, like all of my fellow states - or many of them - we're bouncing along the bottom. We are recovering. We see increase in private sector jobs. But it's not at the rate that our economists had anticipated, the result of which is our revenues down and the demands on government are dramatically up.

We are seeing more children in need of care, more people without health care, more people needing food stamps, more people coming on to the working welfare program than we have in a long time. And you can well understand that when you see the recession that we're in.

The unfortunate part of it, however, is we are now seeing a total loss of revenues like we haven't seen before. So we're turning to our faith community, we're turning to the nonprofits, we're turning to our fellow citizens and saying government can't do these programs. It's time for all of us to step up and help our fellow human being in our state, if we're going to get through this recession.

HANSEN: Chris Gregoire is the governor of Washington state and new chairwoman of the National Governors Association. She spoke to us from the group's annual meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Thank you so much. Good luck.

Gov. GREGOIRE: Thank you.

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