Republican Governors Split Ten Different Ways on the Stimulus

Republicans governors have been in an awkward spot for the past few months. Their states' economies are hurting and their budgets, for the most part, ...
by | April 2, 2009

Republicans governors have been in an awkward spot for the past few months. Their states' economies are hurting and their budgets, for the most part, are in the red. They could alleviate a lot of headaches by taking the stimulus cash that the Obama administration is offering.

But, their party believes in small government as a matter of principle -- if not always practice. Many of them genuinely believe that new government spending won't stimulate the economy.  Their allies in Congress almost unanimously opposed the stimulus. Most of the rank-and-file members of their party -- the people who will determine their future political prospects, including the fate of their presidential ambitions -- dislike it too.

What is a Republican governor to do?

The answer, it turns out, is any of a number of things. Some are embracing the stimulus, some are taking the money with reluctance, some are mulling their options, some are rejecting small parts of it and some appear ready to reject large swaths of it. In fact, I've placed the nation's 22 G.O.P. governors in 10 different categories based on how their response to the stimulus differs in substance and in tone.

As a political journalist, my natural inclination should be to highlight these differences as a case of Republican disunity. You've probably noticed that the media's two favorite story lines are "Democrats divided" and "Republicans violate Reagan's 11th Commandment."

In reality, though, I think Republican governors' divergent views on the stimulus represent a diversity of opinion that is healthy for a political party. Democrats have large majorities in Congress in part because they've focused on finding candidates who fit the districts in which they run, even if they don't fit the party's national platform. Republicans in Congress could learn something from their party's governors.

Before I get to my list, a few cautions. Some of this analysis is subjective. I'm sure I could have sliced governors into different categories that would be equally correct. Plus, figuring out which governors are accepting what money is harder than you might think, in part because it's a moving target. Tomorrow (Friday) is actually a key deadline for governors to accept some stimulus funds.

I read a lot of newspaper clips and asked governors' press offices for guidance a couple of times, but I could be missing something. So, if you have any corrections, clarifications or suggestions, I'd love to hear them. Without further ado, here's the list:

#1: Governors who actively promoted the stimulus and are accepting all of the money

-Arnold Schwarzenegger, California. "It's the greatest package. I'm so happy we are getting these kinds of benefits from the federal government and President Obama."

-Jodi Rell, Connecticut. During the congressional debate, Rell signed a letter in support of the stimulus.

-Charlie Crist, Florida. "The money is a real shot in the arm. It could not come at a better time for states that need the help."

-Jon Huntsman, Utah. The governor went on MSNBC and CNN to criticize Republicans who opposed the stimulus.

-Jim Douglas, Vermont. "I know there are some differences of opinion on some of the elements. And if I were writing it, it might be a little different. If you were writing it, it might be a little different. But the essence of a recovery package is essential to get our nation's economy moving."

#2: Governors who are quietly accepting all of the money

-Jan Brewer, Arizona. Brewer informed Obama she wanted the money in an early March letter.

-Linda Lingle, Hawaii. Lingle is on good terms with Obama, as evidenced by this photo.

-Mike Rounds, South Dakota. "We can eliminate a lot of the pain. We can make it as painless as possible to get through this recession in South Dakota."

#3: Governors who criticized aspects of the stimulus, but who nonetheless are accepting the money

-Mitch Daniels, Indiana. "Across America tonight, there are dozens of states that would gladly change places with Indiana. We are fiscally steady, they are crawling to Congress for bailouts."

-Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota. "Minnesota is a major net contributor to the federal government. For every dollar we send out ... we only get 72 cents back. So, if you're buying the pizza, it's OK to have your slice, even if there are some anchovies on it."

#4: Governors who wavered on accepting some of the money, before ultimately taking all of it

-Sonny Perdue, Georgia. Perdue said he would have voted against the stimulus and considered rejecting unemployment money before taking it.

-Jim Gibbons, Nevada. Last year, Gibbons called for the stimulus to include expanded unemployment benefits. A month ago, however, he gave indications that he might turn down that pool of money because, he said, it would require the state to raise taxes. A political firestorm ensued (to get a sense of the tenor, check out this press release). Ultimately, the governor accepted the money, saying, "We have the responsibility to do everything we can to help our unemployed workers get through these difficult times, even if that means passing legislation that we would not necessarily approve during prosperous times."

#5: Governors who accepted all of the money, but are trying to use some of it for reserves or to pay down debt

-Butch Otter, Idaho. Otter wants to hold $78 million from the stimulus in reserves. "However, I have been clear from the start that I accept this money with great trepidation. I have said repeatedly that we must not obligate ourselves here in Idaho to continuing expenditures based on programs or services that are started or expanded with this emergency cash infusion."

-Don Carcieri, Rhode Island. Carcieri has proposed cutting state funds going to education and using stimulus money as a replacement -- in effect redirecting stimulus funds for education to pay down the state budget shortfall.

#6: Governors who accepted most of the money, but who are still unsure on small parts of it

-Dave Heineman, Nebraska. Heineman is still weighing the money for expanded unemployment benefits, as well as energy efficiency grants that could require changes in state building codes.

#7: Governors who accepted most of the money, but who are still unsure on small parts of it and who are also proposing that some money be used for reserves

-John Hoeven, North Dakota. The governor is still mulling the unemployment money and has also come under criticism from Democrats for suggesting that $233 million in stimulus funds be saved for the next budget biennium.

#8: Governors who are rejecting relatively small parts of the stimulus

-Bob Riley, Alabama. Riley turned down money for unemployment benefits. "Increasing taxes is not my idea of stimulating the economy. In fact, this provision would raise taxes on jobs at a time when we need to create jobs."

-Bobby Jindal, Louisiana. Besides being a trend-setting opponent of the unemployment benefits expansion, Jindal also recently turned down two small areas of health care funding.

-Haley Barbour, Mississippi. Barbour also turned down unemployment money. "I would've voted against this bill. I just believe this bill is way too big, that you could create about as many jobs for about half as much money."

-Rick Perry, Texas. Perry is another governor who rejected the unemployment money on the grounds that it would require a tax increase. "I think most Texans look at Washington, D.C., today and see what's going on up there and they're like, 'Listen, the last thing we want is Washington coming down here to Texas and telling us how to run our state.' "

#9: Governors who are refusing to accept large portions of the money, but who are deferring to the legislature

-Sarah Palin, Alaska. Palin has declined to sign off on money for unemployment benefits, energy efficiency and schools, but has emphasized that the legislature should discuss the issue further. The schools money is the subject of a heated debate. "Unfortunately, a disproportionate percentage of the federal package available to Alaska would increase government operations. It's a stretch to certify that more spending on more bureaucracy actually grows an economy."

#10: Governors who are refusing to accept large portions of the money, unless they are able to pay down the debt

-Mark Sanford, South Carolina. Sanford, an early and aggressive stimulus opponent, doesn't want to accept $700 million for education, unless state lawmakers will pay down $700 million in debt.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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