WASHINGTON — Leaders of the National Governors Association urged Congress on Wednesday to clear the air of uncertainty and swiftly deal with the nation’s looming fiscal issues.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin delivered the NGA’s first-ever State of the States address at the National Press Club. The bipartisan pair arrived in Washington during a quiet period on the Capitol Hill, as the newly-elected Congress doesn’t reconvene until next week.
The previous Congress passed a deal on New Year’s Day to avoid the fiscal cliff, delaying $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts until the end of February. If the new Congress does not act, the cuts could throw the U.S. into another recession and threaten states that are slowly returning to pre-recession levels of job growth.
“As much as we do in our states, our economies are tied to the national economy,” Markell said. “The prosperity of our citizens depends … on the ability of our public servants in Washington to come to terms on a path forward.”
The Delaware Democrat, who sailed to re-election in November, said state governments are in a vulnerable position as they wait for Congress to approve a deficit reduction bill that prevents the massive cuts, known as sequestration.
States stand to lose billions of dollars if the cuts go into effect in early March. The cuts specifically target education, health care and other social programs and have already caused some job losses, according to the Pew Center on States.
“We can’t afford to wait when it comes to moving the needle on jobs and business growth,” Markell said.
Fallin admitted some spending cuts will be “necessary and inevitable,” but urged lawmakers not to merely shift costs to state governments.
“Federal reforms should produce savings for both the federal government and states,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “States should be given increased flexibility to create efficiencies and achieve results.”
Growing uncertainty over the federal debt ceiling has already hurt capital markets and could further puncture hopes for economic recovery, Markell said. If Congress does not increase the official borrowing limit by March, the federal government will likely default on its loans.
Markell also announced a new NGA task force on tax reform that to ensure that governors “have a seat at the table” as Congress takes up the issue this year.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear will lead the group, which is supposed to develop proposals benefitting both state and federal governments. Markell suggested changing sales tax policy to “level the playing field” between physical sales and online retail.
Corbett and Beshear already co-chair the NGA’s economic development and commerce committee.
In their back-to-back speeches, neither Markell nor Fallin mentioned the issue of guns.
Prodded by reporters’ questions, Markell said he would propose legislation this week in Delaware that addresses mental health, school security and gun control. Fallin reiterated her respect for the Second Amendment and said she encouraged Oklahoma schools to revisit their emergency plans.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading a task force to address gun violence, will host a conference call Wednesday with all 50 governors. Biden is spending most of the week talking with relevant groups, including families of victims of gun violence and the National Rifle Association.
Both governors took time to praise the National Guard, which works closely with the states and provides first responders during emergencies and natural disasters. In attendance Wednesday was General Frank Grass, head of the National Guard.
An NGA spokeswoman said the group held its first-ever State of the States address this year in response to the increased gridlock in Washington and saw an opportunity to present key state issues and tout the work of governors across the country. The group was founded in 1908 and is made up of governors from 50 states, as well as the chief executives of territories and commonwealths. It serves as a voice for governors on Capitol Hill and provides assistance for developing and implementing new ideas for public policy.