BY WAYNE GREENE
Lurching from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis in Washington is damaging the nation and makes the task of governing the states much more difficult, Gov. Mary Fallin said in a Washington speech Wednesday.
"It's hard for us as governors to write a budget," Fallin said in her speech at the National Press Club. "I have been working on my state budget ... (and) it keeps having to be adjusted."
The series of federal budget battles - which is on pace to recur with a federal debt limit fight in March - is damaging the nation, Fallin said.
"That uncertainty hurts our economy. It hurts our jobs. It doesn't help us when we try to plan the different services that we need to deliver in our state," Fallin said.
The "State of the States" speech was delivered along with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell on behalf of the National Governors Association. Markell, a Democrat, is the group's chairman. Fallin, a Republican, is the vice chairwoman.
While governors realize that federal budget cuts are coming, Fallin said the nation's fiscal problems can't be solved by pushing costs onto state governments.
Fallin described a new "flexible federalism," in which the federal government treats states as partners and allows them greater flexibility in finding more efficient and less costly ways to solve problems.
"We think states are the 'laboratory of democracy' that can be on the front line of helping develop policies, being able to solve some of our nation's most pressing issues, whether it involves economic growth, job creation, health care, education, focusing on government waste and many other issues," Fallin said. "To provide these solutions, however, we think we need room in our states to reform, to redesign, to redirect many of our state policies and our directions."
The federal government should treat states as "partners, not underlings," she said.
"We don't need a one-size-fits-all solution or more unfunded federal mandates passed on to our states," Fallin said.
As the federal government continues to grapple with its budget problems, Fallin held up Oklahoma's ability to deal with challenges during the national recession as a model.
"I've got to tell you, it wasn't easy," Fallin said. "We did it through prioritizing our spending, making very tough budget decisions, good public policy and we also had to make some shared sacrifices."
Fallin pointed out that Oklahoma's unemployment has gone from a recessionary high of 7 percent to 5.2 percent and the state is one of 30 where government spending is now approaching pre-recession levels.
"We are optimistic about our states and the role they play in making our country stronger and better and more prosperous, and we believe that if we are given the opportunity to have flexibility to innovate and to find solutions to our unique challenges, and if we are able to have a partnership in making good public policy, then we can work together ... to be able to benefit all Americans and find solutions to the problems that our nation faces," Fallin said.