Stateline Story

Dean: No Unfunded Mandates If Elected President

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean promises he won't forget what a governor's job is all about-- and won't order programs without giving states money for them-- if he becomes president of the United States.

A physician, Dean served in the Vermont House from 1982 to 1986 and was elected lieutenant governor in 1986. He became governor with the death of then-Gov. Richard Snelling (R) in 1991, and went on to serve more than 11 years before launching his current bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

As governor, Dean cut the income tax twice, removed the sales tax on most clothing and extended health coverage to all the state's children. He balanced the state budget and set aside a rainy-day fund. Dean also put millions into land preservation and signed the nation's only state law legalizing same-sex partnerships.

Dean, 54, talked with Stateline.org by telephone before a health care speech to the Markle Foundation at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. June 5.

He said he would forsake unfunded mandates to the states if elected president, and would require states that are hurting financially to get their fiscal house in order before hoping for federal bailouts.

Dean said states like New Jersey are suffering the effects of "irresponsible" fiscal policies in the 1990s and should have to give "something in return" to qualify for federal help.

New Jersey experienced rapidly increasing debt in the '90s, paid bills with funds set aside for future needs and manipulated pension funds to produce quick savings, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank.

Dean said jettisoning President George W. Bush's tax cuts and fully funding education programs would help ease the fiscal crisis in other states.

Dean has sought to set himself apart from the Democratic field by opposing large tax cuts and the Iraq war.

He also dislikes the sweeping Bush administration education program, No Child Left Behind, which is supported by many of his Democratic opponents. The program requires states to test students in reading and math, but Dean calls it an unfunded mandate that contains bad educational policy.

As of May, Dean's campaign had raised $2.6 million-- far less than his Democratic rivals. But much of his financial support has come through the Internet. Dean's campaign claims it hit the $1 million mark last month in collecting campaign contributions through his Web site, http://www.DeanforAmerica.com. The Dean campaign is also using the Web to organize volunteers nationwide.

Dean, who was president of the National Governors' Association in 1995, received his college degree from Yale University in 1971 and earned a medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City in 1978. He previously shared a medical practice with his wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg.

At his final news conference as governor in January, the Associated Press reported that tears filled Dean's eyes, and he thanked legislators and citizens for allowing him to "be in the greatest job in the state of Vermont longer than anybody else in 200 years." Following is the full text of Stateline.org's interview with Dean:

Stateline.org:Most states currently have horrendous budget problems, and all the experts say the situation is not likely to change anytime soon. If you were president, what would you do about this?

Dean:There are some things I want to do to help the states. I divide the states into two categories: those states which are suffering because of the Bush tax cuts and the recession, and those states which are suffering because of recession and their own irresponsible fiscal policies during the 90s. There were some states that embarked on enormous irresponsible tax cuts, in some cases actually borrowing the money to pay for those tax cuts. Those are states we're not going to simply just bail out without asking something in return. They've got to get their fiscal house in order and demonstrate to the federal government that we're not simply subsidizing irresponsible financial policies. Those states which are simply victims of the Bush tax cuts will be helped by undoing those tax cuts and fully funding things like special education and other obligations that are things like No Child Left Behind. That will help the states a lot.

Rolling back the Bush tax cuts will fund our share of special ed which I intend to fully fund in the first year of my presidency, and fund huge unfunded mandates like No Child Left Behind which middle-class taxpayers are basically backfilling.

I'll help all states to get their fiscal house in order, but states like New Jersey for example, which had an enormous tax cutborrowing the money to get the tax cut--- have got to get their own fiscal house in order from what went on in the 90s so they are partners. Those states that have simply been victimized by the Bush tax cuts, we can undo the Bush tax cuts, and we should. They've been very bad for the country's economy and very bad for driving up local property taxes and state taxes. And then what I'm willing to do for all states is to fully fund state mandates. Fully fund special education, which we can afford to do if we roll back the Bush tax cuts. Fully fund the No Child Left Behind billalthough that needs to be altered for educational reasons. And look at the other unfunded mandates that the federal government has foisted on the state government and start to fully fund those.

The other piece is Medicaid. I intend to use Medicaid as the basis of half of my health care plan, and the match rate is going to be substantially increased. The states will administer the program but they will be held harmless in terms of money with much higher match rates.

Stateline.org: How would your policies toward the states differ from those of the Bush administration?

Dean:You'll not see an unfunded mandate. Now, the question is, what is an unfunded mandate and how do you define one? You will not see us ordering policies on education in particular, in terms of disability rightsno, that's not truein terms of programs for people with disability or children or any other group of peoplewithout funding. You will not see that from a Dean administration. If we ask the states to do something, or the municipalities to do something, we will fully fund it otherwise we won't ask you to do it.

Stateline.org: Is there anything you'd like to add?

Dean: In general, how would (my policy toward) the states differ from (that of) the Bush administration? You know I respect what the governor is all about. The only thing I would like to add is that every candidate will talk like this. We've done it. When we put in our education testing, every school board had their test paid for by the state. Have I ever as governor pushed an unfunded mandate down to the local government? Probably. I'm sure there are some times that I have. But I intensely dislike the notion of the federal government telling us how to run programs and not paying for them. You will not see that in a Dean administration. And that's about it. Thank you.