Republican Governors Back Down on the Stimulus -- or Do They?

Have Republican governors backed down in their fight against the stimulus? Politico says they have: The list of governors threatening to decline federal stimulus money ...
by | April 14, 2009

Have Republican governors backed down in their fight against the stimulus? Politico says they have:

The list of governors threatening to decline federal stimulus money last month read like a list of Republicans considering running for president in 2012: Govs. Mark Sanford, Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin led the anti-stimulus charge.

But what began with a bang is ending with something closer to a whimper. All three of those governors have been forced to scale back their expectations, to varying degrees, as the push of conservative philosophy gave way to the pull of political reality.

All three found that praise from the conservative movement in Washington meant nothing to furious state legislators of both parties. And in the end, along with other conservative Republican governors, the three submitted letters in recent days asking to be eligible for federal funds, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget confirmed.

But Pro Publica says the importance of these certification letters has been overstated:

Today's deadline was set up to get governors on the record accepting stimulus money. They have to sign a generic letter and send it to Washington before they're allowed to apply for any specific funds, federal officials say. The letter doesn't mean they have to apply for, or spend, any money at all.

News reports have further blurred the significance of today's deadline by implying that the governors' certifications come with "caveats," when, in fact, their certifying letters simply answer a yes-or-no question: The state governments are willing to apply for some funds.

"They don't have to say this and not that [in their certification letters]," explained Tom Gavin, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget. "They just have to say they will accept some of the money. Otherwise they can't accept any of the funding," he told us.

You're probably as capable as I am of parsing the language of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to discern for yourself whether these certification letters were significant. But, it's worth noting: Some Republican governors, including Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin, are still trying to effectively redirect stimulus money to paying down debt.

That approach, the Obama administration believes, is contrary to the purpose of the stimulus. And, they have a point. If a state is using stimulus funds to reduce its unfunded liability for public employee pensions, for example, what it is effectively doing is spreading the stimulus over 30 years. That may be prudent fiscal policy, but it's something very different from injecting money into the economy right now in the hopes of boosting the economy right now.

In other words, some Republican governors still are fighting the stimulus. They've simply found a different way to do it.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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