Dan Crippen recently took over as executive director of the National Governors Association (NGA), which had been led by his predecessor, Ray Scheppach, since 1983. Crippen has an impressive resumé of his own, highlighted by his role as director of the Congressional Budget Office from 1999 to 2002.

What drew you to the job at the NGA?

I was feeling a little guilty for having not been back in public service for a while. I’ve worked with governors most of my life. In fact, I started out in public service when I was an undergraduate working for a governor in South Dakota. It’s back to where I started in some ways.

It seems that when money is tight, partisan divisions become more apparent. What’s the role of the NGA given its diverse political membership?

We obviously have to look for the middle ground or a nonpartisan, apolitical ground. I think we’ve seen a little more division at the moment around the whole issue of health care and health-care reform. When it comes to day-to-day stuff, however, the governors are certainly not unanimous, but they all share big problems and big challenges. So actually I think they are probably more amenable to shared solutions.

A recent Pew Center on the States study says the average state pension system was funded at 78 percent in 2009 -- a decline of 6 percentage points from 2008. What do you see states doing to address that problem?

I think the headlines overstated the findings. It was not much [of a drop]. Overall, the states are mindful of whatever the gaps are and are taking actions -- both to manage the funds better but also reduce future obligations somewhat. Around 20 states have changed parts of their program just this year alone.

Health-care costs are a growing burden for states. Is Medicaid a sustainable program or are we going to reach some sort of tipping point?

Clearly, health care writ-large is unsustainable. We can’t grow health care faster than the economy forever. [The question] is not just, “Is it sustainable?” but, “What are the consequences of continuing [to grow] at the current rate?” [As it is,] we don’t have as much money as we’d like for education, transportation, infrastructure -- for investments in the future.

Revenues are rebounding, but will we ever return to where we were?

I don’t know that it’s a sea change, but I think we have had one of those moments where the economy and demography collide. We’re going to go from 40 million retirees to 80 million in the next 20 years. So whether it’s Medicaid or long-term care -- we’re going to be putting demands on government. At the same time, [retirees don’t] generate as much income or as much tax revenue for a jurisdiction either. So the demographic [shift], along with the economic, means these are long-term challenges. It’s not just that we can recover and in two years it will be rosy again.

An extended interview with Crippen can be found here.