When Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld (R) presented his plan to cut $2.6 billion from the Bay State's budget to an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature last week, his proposals to furlough state workers, sell state property and close state hospitals were "greeted with stunned silence," he said.

The reductions, he told the lawmakers, were the best way to balance the state budget without enacting tax increases.

Over the weekend, Weld joined other governors at their midwinter meeting here, having long ago given up hope for any help from the federal government and, if anything, expecting further bad news from President Bush's budget. Instead, they left town yesterday pleasantly surprised that the administration had not done anything that drives them any further into the hole.

"The federal government's broke," said Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (D) after the governors met with Bush Monday. "They can't give us any money. What most of us have concluded is, we're going to go home and fight our battles out the best we can. The best thing {Bush} can do for us right now is not to hurt us any with our budgets."

An increasingly frequent source of complaint from state governments is that federal mandates on Medicaid programs have driven their budgets deeper into the red. "We've got to have fewer mandates and more options in getting to the bottom line," said Georgia Gov. Zell Miller (D).

At its closing session yesterday, the National Governors' Association passed a formal resolution that calls for a two-year moratorium on implementing the new mandates.

"I'd like the federal government to leave us alone," said Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson (R). "The best thing the federal government can do is clean up their own federal problems."

The Bush administration did in fact offer the governors what it described as assistance in the form of a plan to turn $15 billion in federal programs over to the states to use the money as they see fit. The plan would give them the flexibility they need, the governors said, to spend the money where it is needed most.

Another bid to help states -- this one from House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) -- was received more coolly. Gephardt suggested in a speech yesterday that the federal government raise the tax on some corporate income by 2 percent to pay for state education programs. The tax, he said, would raise $16 billion over five years.

To qualify for the "bonus" funding, Gephardt said states would have to demonstrate that children entering first grade were receiving prenatal and well-baby care, immunizations, nutritional screening and early childhood education.

Gephardt also questioned whether the president's $15 billion block grant plan for states "is a shell game . . . {and} fiscal sleight-of-hand designed to hamstring the states still further. . . . "

Vermont Gov. Richard A. Snelling (R) challenged Gephardt's plan, saying that it could cost states more to meet the federal government criteria for the bonuses than they would receive in return. And Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft (R) wrote Gephardt's plan off as political posturing.

Ohio Gov. George V. Voinovich (R), in an interview prior to Gephardt's speech, cited one example in which it cost his state $7,000 to assemble an application for a federal mental health program grant. "A whole lot of that stuff is going on," he said.

Voinovich announced $150 million in Ohio budget cuts last Friday. In another midwestern state, Illinois, Gov. Jim Edgar (R) said federal Medicaid mandates account for $45 million of his estimated $300 million shortfall.

Several governors said they take comfort from the presence of four ex-governors -- White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, education secretary-designate Lamar Alexander and drug policy control director Bob Martinez -- in Bush's inner circle. They expressed no such confidence in Congress.

Staff writer David S. Broder contributed to this report.