NGA Chair to Feds: "Please Do Not Get in Our Way"

During this year's State of the States address, governors continued their push for more control over their economic futures.
by | January 15, 2014 AT 6:00 PM

Governors are continuing their push for more control over their economic futures this year as slow on the federal level has forced states to take charge, National Governor’s Association leaders said Wednesday in their State of the States Address.

The address, delivered by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (NGA’s chair and vice chair, respectively), contained as much back patting as it did prodding. Both leaders highlighted several points in recent years where states have made progress through innovation or cooperation.

“Where the federal government will not act, states are stepping in,” Fallin said at the event in Washington, D.C. “Our message for 2014 is clear: states are leading and we encourage our federal partners to work more closely with us and to take note and to use the policy ideas coming from their state partners. Above all, please do not get in our way.”

Hickenlooper, whose state was ravaged with floods in 2013, noted that the first calls for National Guard assistance he received were from Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming – all states with Republican governors (Hickenlooper is a Democrat).

“Governors don’t really worry about the parties when we’re trying to get things done,” he added.

The tone is a familiar one – the NGA has been pushing its agenda of flexible federalism, the idea that the federal government shouldn’t fix its own problems on the backs of the states. (For example, one principle the NGA advocates regarding the federal deficit is that any reduction should not be accomplished by shifting costs to states or imposing unfunded mandates). And in fact, the core issues in last year’s State of the States address – having a role in the deficit reduction talks and comprehensive tax reform – remain unchanged from a year earlier.

Even with an omnibus spending bill for 2014 passed in Congress, Fallin notes that “major reauthorization bills governing key federal-state programs are stacking up.” Additionally, the federal Highway Trust Fund faces a fiscal cliff of sorts this year as expenses are projected to be more than its receipts (even including general fund transfers).

In terms of what kind of flexibility the states want, Fallin said Congress should not reauthorize No Child Left Behind until it has made changes that give states more control. And she called on Congress to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act and restore the 15 percent set-aside dedicated to state workforce innovation. States also want federal legislation that ensures long term stability for the highway trust fund, Hickenlooper said, so that states and localities can invest in long term transportation projects “possible only with a consistent and reliable federal partner.” He also urged Congress to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow states to collect taxes on Internet sales.

“It’s not like the Internet still needs a lift up,” he added.

Following the speech, Hickenlooper said the governors did receive some encouragement on cooperation from Washington following their meeting with President Barack Obama, where they were able to voice their frustrations over things like getting waivers for healthcare or trying to streamline permitting process for infrastructure projects.

“The president was literally saying, ‘Here I’ll give you my cell phone number – if the federal bureaucracy is blocking you governors from getting stuff done, let us know and we’re going to get on it.’ And I think we all heard that with gratitude,” Hickenlooper said.