The most common issue identified by governors, who attended the recently concluded National Governors Association meeting, was controlling the soaring costs of Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for 52 million poor and disabled Americans. The Bush administration's proposal to cut federal Medicaid funds to states by $40 billion over 10 years dominated discussions at the NGA meeting, held Feb. 26 to March 1.
Funding for education, transportation and private health care also were named as top priorities.
Here's a sampling of governors' concerns, in their own words:
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R): "If it wasn't for Medicaid, our state budget problem would be manageable. ... Most every governor here would say Medicaid is not sustainable. (The federal government) can help us get our costs down. ... You root out the inefficiencies. You put the money into care instead of bureaucracy and process."
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell (D): "The federal cuts in Medicaid have caused us to make significant cuts in almost every aspect of our budget to realign and reshape benefits we offer in our Medicaid program."
Vermont Gov. James Douglas (R): "We have a real budget crunch basically because of Medicaid. ... I think we can work together with our federal partners to find a way to solve this. ... (U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary and former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt) clearly wants to work with his former colleagues to help us with this dilemma."
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R): "Health care issues overall -- public and private systems -- and their challenges as far as the super-inflation of health care" are the biggest issues.
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D): "Our biggest challenge is to keep our economy growing and growing in a way that is producing good-paying jobs for people. We've done pretty well in the last year, but that's what we work on as our No. 1 priority. There are a lot of ways Washington can help us, ... helping us with Medicaid and other issues that really reflect on the state budget, helping us make sure that our students are getting good educations from pre-kindergarten through the highest levels of graduate school, and having a trade policy and an economic growth policy in this country that's really directed at modernizing our manufacturing base and improving our agricultural economy."
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R): "The biggest challenge would be on economic development and job growth. ... That's fundamentally an issue we're going to solve at the state (level). Certainly, some of what's happened in the textile world has been driven by national policy. That, in essence, is behind us. ... How do we retool, and where do we go from here? That's really up to us as a state."
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R): "Affordable housing is the biggest issue facing our state right now. The federal government has been very supportive, and we continue to seek help for a variety of programs. ... We've identified one of the biggest restrictions on our ability to get affordable housing is the cost of the infrastructure. ... For working people -- teachers, firefighters -- to afford a home has become a real challenge in the state."
Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) , who chairs the Republican Governors Association: "We're the fastest-growing state for the 18th year in a row so our infrastructure, which involves our schools, housing, streets and highways, (is our biggest challenge). We're under constant pressure. ... We're working very closely with the federal government on releasing public lands. ... (We're) trying to set up a trust so that the state can take in federal lands and the state can build affordable housing. This isn't just for the new teachers and nurses and people moving to our community, but for middle-income families who are getting priced out."
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D): "What we'd really like is some assistance from the federal government on what we're trying to do, which is strike a balance" between tapping energy sources and protecting the environment.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R): The biggest challenge is "paying the bills for transportation and education. ... I'm not sure that Washington can help a whole lot. It's going to have to be internally generated thinking and public policy proposals -- like tax reform and regulatory reform -- and just good old-fashioned economic development."
Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) said the biggest challenges facing Delaware are maintaining education and healthcare funding. The federal government can help the state "by being careful of how they change the budget so that it doesn't affect us too much."