Governors Hope to Guide Spending of Stimulus Funds

President Obama told the nation's governors who were attending his first formal White House dinner, that all governors, despite party affiliation, need to work with Washington to help repair the economy.
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 2009

After poring over the historic $787 billion economic stimulus act, the nation's governors will meet with President Obama this morning, and they said they will plead for flexibility as they lay out plans to spend the federal money to jolt their teetering state economies.

Leading Republican governors continued their sparring yesterday by offering divergent views of the recovery act, with Southern conservatives saying they would reject some stimulus funds and coastal moderates embracing Obama's plan. But governors of both political parties said in interviews yesterday that the Obama administration should give states flexibility to make smart investments in education, health care and transportation.

"We know our states well, and we know what works and what doesn't work," said New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D). "I think [Obama] needs to trust us and give us the flexibility and the discretion to use the money wisely so that it will create jobs, will avoid layoffs, and at the same time help our most vulnerable citizens who depend on state government."

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) said that the stimulus money is "already in fairly narrow buckets" and that the Obama administration should give states discretion in spending it.

"If they really want to see the money put to work quickly, they would take a radically -- radically for Washington -- flexible attitude for the use of it," Daniels said. "What I'm afraid we're going to get instead is a micromanaged structure."

The stimulus plan will dominate the governors' meeting at the White House, and Obama is likely to deliver a message similar to one he gave a gathering of mayors last week: His administration will hold officials at all levels of government accountable for how they spend stimulus money.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, said the president will call for "accountability, responsibility, metrics for success" and for "making sure that we spend the money wisely and prudently in a way that is tied to the objective of the bill, which is to create jobs," Jarrett said. "We're doing this to jump-start our economy and help create jobs here in the United States. So every penny we spend should be measured against that objective."

The governors are in Washington for a three-day National Governors Association meeting. Many said they have questions about how the stimulus money can be spent in their states.

"Most of the meeting is going to concentrate on how we implement the stimulus, what some of the rules are, where some of the money is going to flow, the competitive grant areas," said Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D), chairman of the association.

Budget director Peter Orszag met with the governors at a closed-door luncheon yesterday and answered some of what Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) described as "picayune" concerns about the bill.

Governors from both political parties said Obama has struck an unusually collaborative tone with them by soliciting and listening to their opinions. They described President George W. Bush's meetings with them as highly structured. Bush would deliver a speech and allow only two questions -- one from a Democrat and one from a Republican.

Governors were asked to submit their questions in advance so Bush could prepare responses.

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