Governors Gather in Indianapolis for Annual Meeting

Officially, education, health care and the economy top the agenda of the annual summer meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA), which this year takes place in Indianapolis. But the California recall election is likely to be the prime topic of discussion.

About 35 of the 50 governors are expected to attend the meeting. California's Gray Davis (D), who is struggling to survive a drive to remove him from office in a special Oct.7 election, has not told NGA officials if he will be there.

More than 1,000 lobbyists, policy wonks and journalists will join the governors. Also planning to attend are two Bush administration officials Interior Secretary Gail Norton and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge both of whom are to speak on Monday.

Security at the meeting will be tight, with the Indiana state police leading a law enforcement team that includes the Indianapolis city police and the Marion County sheriffs department and two federal agencies, the ATF and the FBI.

"It is the largest expense in our budget," said Cheryl Reed, spokeswoman for the meeting's host committee. Total meeting expenses could reach $2 million.

Most of the governors gathering in Indianapolis come from states struggling through a third straight year of budget problems. Beyond the slumping economy, one of the chief causes of their problems is the rapidly rising cost of Medicaid, the joint-federal program that provides health care to more than 40 million low-income and disabled individuals.

NGA spokeswoman Christine LaPaille said governors plan to discuss Medicaid at the meeting, although there is little agreement among them about what can be done to control costs, short of reducing benefits or knocking people off the rolls.

Earlier this summer, the governors failed to reach consensus on a Bush administration plan that would cap federal Medicaid payments to states in exchange for greater program flexibility at the state level. The hope was that this would spur money-saving innovation. In the absence of gubernatorial agreement, the plan is unlikely to be approved by Congress.

In the meantime, many governors have started limiting Medicaid benefits, reducing enrollment and adding co-pays in an effort to hold the line on health care spending. LaPaille said the governors hope to release new data on state health care cuts this weekend.

The annual summer meeting opens Sunday, Aug. 17, with a session on low-performing schools and how they can be turned around. This has been the chief concern of Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton's (D) one-year term as NGA chairman. Patton will pass the chairman's baton to Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) at the conclusion of the meeting.

The governors wind up their discussions Tuesday, Aug. 19, with a session featuring William S. Cohen, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, and David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post, both of whom will talk about what states must do to compete in an ever-changing global economy.

In between the opening and closing sessions, the governors will assemble in private work meetings to talk shop, attend a reception at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and meet with their respective partisan governors groups, the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association.