Wisconsin Budget Plan: Some Governors Call It Political Payback

Some govs say Scott Walker's striking back at unions, others praise him.

February 26, 2011, 6:03 PM

Feb. 26, 2011 -- As governors convened at a conference in the nation's capital this weekend, one was noticeably missing -- Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, whose state is embroiled in a political war over a budget proposal that threatens collective bargaining.

The political turmoil in Wisconsin and sweeping budget cuts across the country were a hot topic among the governors attending the National Governors Association's Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.

For some of the governors, what Walker is doing with his budget proposal is putting political payback ahead of what is really good for the state economy, but others say he should be praised for taking serious steps to slash spending.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said Walker isn't the only governor turning state budget decisions into an ideological battle.

"What's going on in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states is an ideological detour that does nothing to help us create jobs and move our economy forward," O'Malley told ABC News. "I think it's a shame when some governors decide to sharpen their ideological acts in order to go after unions just because they didn't endorse them in the last election."

But several Republican governors, including Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Jan Brewer of Arizona, praised Walker's governing style in Wisconsin, saying he should be commended for his actions.

"Governor Walker, after all, is only doing something he promised to do and he ought to be commended, I think, for trying to keep his commitments," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told ABC News.

Barbour, who is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2012, echoed the Indiana Republican's support of Walker and added that collective bargaining is not a right.

Barbour also criticized Wisconsin Democrats for leaving the state in the middle of a vote on the budget and warned they will face retaliation in the next election.

"I think they'll pay a price at the polls," Barbour said. "You get elected to do your job. When things aren't going politically like you want them to, you're supposed to hitch up your big boy britches and take it like a man or a woman, and you're not supposed to run off and hide because you're going to lose the votes."

Brewer joined in the lambasting of Wisconsin Democrats, telling ABC News, "It's despicable that we have elected officials that have left their states in order to not be on the record and do the job that they were elected for."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said his state is battling the long-term costs of pensions and health benefits and advised governors that the situation in Wisconsin should not distract them from confronting the problems within their own states.

"My view is I've got things I've got to do in New Jersey," Christie said. "Every state's going to be different and every governor's approach is going to be different, so I'll be judged by how I approach things in New Jersey. "

Amid looming budget cuts and teetering state economies, governors from across the nation gathered in the nation's capital this weekend for a policy- minded discussion on job creation, education, and competitiveness in the global market.

"Governors do not have the luxury of waiting for solutions to present themselves," Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a news conference. "There's a need for us to create jobs, to find steady employment, and a promising future for our children."

Gregoire, chair of the NGA, said states across the country are "fragile" and warned Congress that a government shutdown or cuts in spending would further undermine states' economic recovery.

"We are fragile, so anything Congress does, whether it's a shutdown or cuts that will directly impact the states, can be of considerable concern to us because we don't need a hiccup right now in our recovery," the Democrat said. "We can ill afford to have any government shutdown and cuts that will dramatically impact the states."

Over the past two years, states have cut spending by more than $75 billion, and collectively, the states face a $175 billion shortfall.

Gregoire cited job creation as the key to alleviating the economic pain felt across the nation.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, like Gregoire a Democrat, said states are "recovering, not recovered."

Nearly 50 governors, including many of the 29 first elected this fall, registered for the NGA's Winter Meeting, which kicked off in Washington, D.C., today and continues through Monday.

The governors are scheduled to attend a black-tie event at the White House Sunday night and to meet with President Obama on Monday.

Throughout the weekend, the governors will participate in closed door meetings and open sessions focusing on job creation, education, economic development, public safety and homeland security.

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