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Governors Meet in Boston as State Budget Crises Loom

The National Governors Association kicked off its annual meeting Friday in Boston. For three days, the group will tackle health reform, government efficiency, education, the environment and, of course, the economy.

As these state leaders gather to discuss the risks of a growing federal deficit, many of them face budget crises of their own back home. Unlike the federal government, most states are required to balance their budgets, creating legislative deadlocks in some of the largest states.

All together, states will likely be $140 billion in the hole, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In California, the June 15 deadline came and went without a budget in place. But as negotiations continue nine days into the fiscal year, the state may be down to the last $7 billion. Not a small amount to settle – but it’s closer than the original $19 billion gap. At KQED, reporter John Meyers has kept a watchful eye on the state’s budget negotiations on his Capitol Notes podcast with Anthony York of Capitol Weekly.

“It is true that Democrats and the governor do agree on about $12 billion out of the $19 billion deficit. But whether that’s progress or whether that’s new is debatable. You could make the argument that those agreements have been in place since May, since the governor released his revised budget,” said York. “I’m not sure that this is really progress; it might be a recasting of the problem.”

In New York, the legislature went on hiatus for a few weeks, but left the budget unfinished. This week Gov. David Patterson vetoed nearly 6,700 of the legislature’s spending proposals, amounting to $525 million that can be taken out of the budget, North Country Public Radio reported. Republicans claim the Democrats, who control both houses, are neglecting a 2007 budget reform law that would create a more open process, WXXI reported.

The New York legislative budget wrangling became so quirky that even This American Life picked up the story with a profile on Richard Ravitch, the man called in to resolve the crisis. Ira Glass interviews “Mr. Fix It.”

In Ohio, legislatures are looking for tips from other states to balance their budget. Some suggestions: increasing taxes, eliminating tax breaks and cutting costs. Bill Cohen of Ohio Public Radio runs over the possible cutbacks presented by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But lawmakers don’t think the process will be easy. “There aren’t going to be any simple formulas that you can just adopt. It’s going to be a lot of hard things that you’re going to have to put together to make things work,” said Republican Ohio State Rep. Ron Amstutz.

As for the governor’s gathering in Boston, there is optimism about the meeting.

“I know I speak for all governors when I say we’re ready to get down to it,” said West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, who will become the NGA chair on Sunday. “We are all looking forward to the opportunity to focus on state issues, share best practices and find solutions to our common challenges.”

Friday on the NewsHour, we’ll get more details on what other states are facing as Margaret Warner talks with Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., and Gov. Jim Douglas, R-Vt., about the economic crises facing their states.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this past incorrectly listed Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman as a guest on Friday’s NewsHour. The guests were Gov. Ed Rendell and Gov. Jim Douglas.

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