‘Now that I’m governor…’

Margy Waller
Margy Waller Visiting Fellow, Economic Studies and Metropolitan Policy, The Brookings Institution

November 29, 2002

TRANSCRIPT of a phone call from a new governor to one of the state’s senators in Washington. (Any resemblance to an actual real live governor is purely coincidental.):

I’m the new governor—or I will be in January. Already I’m thinking that my timing was off. If I don’t get some help—never mind worrying about the next election, there could be a recall.

So, I’m telling you the state really needs your help. We’re in desperate straits and you gotta see that Congress is in a position to help me—or hurt me.

I’m facing a deficit that equals about 5 percent of the budget. That’s billions! And the state isn’t like the federal government—we have to balance our budget. On top of that, the last governor fudged on his projection, so I have to find a way to balance the current year before I can even get to next year.

Just in case you have any ideas about our “rainy day funds,” forget it. We had a fiscal hurricane last year, and the state spent it. We already used all the one-time funds we could scare up. Even after all that, and raising cigarette taxes, we had to cut child care and health coverage for working families.

Working families are really suffering. Unemployment is a big problem and tens of thousands of people have exhausted their unemployment benefits and still can’t find work. We’re using up all our federal allotment of children’s health insurance money, and we’ve still got kids who aren’t covered.

We’ve got a long waiting list for child care for kids in working families. Meanwhile, the welfare caseload isn’t dropping the way it was; some months the numbers are even going up.

So, here’s what I need:

First, quit postponing action on reauthorizing welfare reform. You guys already extended the law twice. I don’t see what’s so hard about this. Everyone says the 1996 change was a huge success. Geez, millions of former welfare recipients are working now.

The key thing is you need to make sure the state gets to decide how to spend that money. We want to keep using it for child care and transportation for poor working families. And we need to have the flexibility you guys promised to design programs for people still on welfare who are having a harder time finding a job.

What would be so hard about throwing a little more child care money my way, and just going with the current law? Sure, I could use the help from that jobs program you proposed in the Senate bill earlier this year too. And, heck, this marriage program seems like a real waste to me, but I guess you gotta do it to keep the president’s people happy. Just pass it!

The longer you all delay on this, the harder it is for me to hang on to the money in this year’s budget. These guys in the legislature are afraid that they aren’t gonna have as much to spend in the future, and they’d just as soon cut it now to take care of the current problem. I can’t keep those child care centers open by promising them money from the feds someday in the future! They gotta pay their bills, too.

NOW THERE’S a pretty easy answer on the children’s health care thing, too. Did you know that a nearby state hasn’t spent all its allotment from Washington? And it’s about to get sent back to Treasury. Can’t you redirect that money to us?

If you don’t, bunches of kids are gonna lose health coverage.

I mean, their parents are WORKING, they just don’t get insurance for the kids on the job. I know you want to take care of them as much as I do.

And what is so hard about doing the right thing on unemployment benefits? The last time around, when that other guy was governor, Congress didn’t have any problem extending benefits to everyone who needed them. Get it done, man! It’s not right for these families who want to work to lose their homes.

This should be easy pickings. Don’t mess me up, senator. But I’ll be back ’cause this doesn’t begin to solve my budget problem. I just don’t want to make things worse by putting all those working families back on welfare cause we stopped “making work pay.”

That was the deal, right? Let’s keep our promise, man.