WASHINGTON — After a meeting Tuesday between governors and President-elect Barack Obama, Gov. Phil Bredesen said the vast majority of state leaders support an economic stimulus that could help states pay for infrastructure projects as well as provide aid for social programs.
“The governors were real clear they were not asking for a handout,” said Gov. Bredesen, who attended the meeting. “We’re not saying, ‘Help us with our budget problems.’ We’re saying, ‘Help us with some of our people, like unemployment, broadening food stamps and helping with the additional cost of Medicaid.’”
The meeting between President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and the National Governors Association, believed to be the first of its kind, was requested by the incoming administration and was held in Philadelphia.
Gov. Bredesen said any infrastructure aid for Tennessee would be for projects that could be started immediately. Tennessee is facing a potential $800 million shortfall in its budget this year.
Georgia is facing a nearly $2 billion shortfall of its own this year, and Gov. Sonny Perdue said through a spokesman that he welcomed the bipartisan spirit of discussions on the economy but warned that any stimulus should not cause further financial burdens in the future.
“Many states are making the tough decisions to live within their means and going through that process,” Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said. “The things that we do today have consequences down the road. You don’t try to solve the short term at the expense of the long term.”
President-elect Obama has said he is likely to propose a stimulus package but provided no details on what it might contain. He pledged to work with governors in fixing the economy.
“To solve this crisis and to ease the burden on our states, we’re going to need action, and we’re going to need action swiftly,” he said in prepared remarks. “If we’re listening to the governors, then the money that we spend is going to be well spent. And it means that it’s going to get working faster, and the people in your states are going to experience prosperity sooner.”
He empathized with governors struggling to craft budgets while state tax revenues fall and an increasing number of people seek state help.
“Jobs are being cut,” he said. “Programs for the needy are at risk. Libraries are being closed. Historic sites are being closed.
“I don’t think anybody here is viewing the situation through rose-colored glasses,” he said. “Not all of those choices are going to be popular.”
The president-elect promised Republican governors “the hand of friendship, the same commitment to partnership” that Democrats receive.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, urged in a letter to President-elect Obama that any economic stimulus not add to the country’s debt.
“As governors we live with the demands of balancing our budgets, and we respectfully, but strongly, urge you to avoid large-scale spending increases that are paid for through further borrowing,” Gov. Sanford wrote.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.