By Rick Lyman
The nation's governors criticized Congress on Wednesday for the political gridlock that they said had stymied passage of almost every federal initiative most needed by the states, and reiterated their calls for help from Washington.
"We are now midway through the 113th Congress, and governors are frustrated," said Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, a Republican and chairwoman of the National Governors Association, as she delivered the group's second State of the States address.
"Despite the recent budget agreement, partisan gridlock continues to prevent long-term policy solutions," Ms. Fallin said. "We're doing our part as governors to create jobs and address the challenges facing our states and this country. But we also believe that now it's time for our federal partners to do theirs and to take action."
Last January, the governors association came to Washington to lay out a blueprint of what states needed from lawmakers. This year's list of requests, Ms. Fallin said, is almost identical.
"We stand here today with essentially the same to-do list sitting before our Congress," she said.
Ms. Fallin and the vice chairman of the association, Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado, a Democrat, delivered the address at the National Press Club a day after meeting with President Obama.
The president and his staff asked a lot of questions, Mr. Hickenlooper said, and promised to act on behalf of any governors who felt the federal government was stifling their states' efforts.
In particular, the governors called on Congress and the White House to fix what they said were flaws in the No Child Left Behind Act, to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act, to restore the 15 percent of cash set aside for states under the Workforce Investment Act, to ensure that each state's National Guard has enough money to operate effectively, and to give states more flexibility to experiment with new solutions to nagging problems.
The rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which has dominated political discussion in Washington in recent months, received barely a mention, an indication of the disagreement among governors on the contentious subject.
"It's a difficult time," Ms. Fallin said. "Change is hard."
The governors were also keen to point to state efforts to train workers, improve access to education, lower health care costs and address the nation's crumbling infrastructure, contrasting that to the lack of action in Congress.
"States are leading, and we encourage our federal partners to work more closely with us and to take note of and use the policy ideas coming from their state partners," Ms. Fallin said. "Above all, please do not get in our way."
As the shrinking federal budget, including the automatic cuts known as sequestration, has choked off some of the money that ordinarily flows to statehouses, governors have had to reduce services and scramble to keep programs operating.
"It is left to the states to chart their own path and pursue their own policies where partisan gridlock has left Washington unable to address the nation's serious problems," Ms. Fallin said.
In the future, the governors said, Congress should pay closer attention to the implications of budget cuts and make certain that what appear to be savings at the federal level do not merely push those costs to the states.
"In my state of Oklahoma, and in states across the country, the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans can agree that moving from one crisis to another, without any long-term plan or vision, is a recipe for trouble," Ms. Fallin said. "Washington's short-term thinking and continued inaction are hurting state economies, repressing job growth and, ultimately, hurting American families in every state."