Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, chair of the National Governors Association, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, met Friday to discuss the budget crisis facing states and cities and a possible joint lobbying strategy for federal fiscal relief.
Governors and mayors find themselves in similarly dire fiscal circumstances, with significant deficits forcing them to cut programs and raise taxes, but they've yet to jointly present their concerns to Congress.
Patton and Menino, both of whom are Democrats, hope their meeting in Washington, D.C., will lead to a closer working relationship between governors and mayors as they push their respective agendas on Capitol Hill.
"It's in our interest, given the slump in the economy, that we come together," Menino told Stateline.org. "It can't be us against them."
Of chief concern to mayors and governors is receiving money for training and equipping emergency anti-terror teams
"Immediate are the homeland security provisions, the costs of which are impacting the states and cities pretty heavily. We've yet to receive any relief from the federal government, promised though it may have been," Patton said in a separate interview.
States have been expecting $3.5 billion from the federal government. But legislation appropriating the money stalled last year as Congress debated which federal agency should disburse the money the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Department of Justice - and what the spending limits should be.
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has said he will push for quick delivery of the promised funds when Congress reconvenes in January.
Beyond homeland security funds, Patton said mayors and governors share other areas of concern, including money for transportation and Medicaid, even though the latter is mainly a state and federal program.
According to Menino, the mayors' interest in Medicaid lies in the program's escalating costs, which are busting many state budgets and leading to state spending cuts in areas such as local aid and education, which directly affect city budgets.
Governors in twelve states cut aid to cities and towns to close state budget gaps in fiscal year 2003, according to the NGA. Eight states did the same the year before. And with states facing an aggregate budget deficit of roughly $60 billion this year and the next, many more can be expected to do the same.
The prospects for federal fiscal relief remain mixed. During the last legislative session, Republicans in Congress were the most vocal opponents of funneling additional funds to states. And with control of the Senate now in GOP hands, the federal government's hold on its purse strings would appear to be rather tight.
But the states' budget woes have received heightened attention of late, and that gives Patton some hope.
"I'm more optimistic than I would have been some months ago," Patton said. "The problem is worse, but the realization of the magnitude of the problem has really manifest itself over the last month or two."