February 22, 1998 in Nation/World

Governors Ask Congress To Put More Power, Cash In States’ Hands

Desiree F. Hicks Knight Ridder
 

The nation’s 50 governors, led by Ohio’s George Voinovich, urged Congress on Saturday to pass new education initiatives that give states the flexibility to develop their own programs.

“Whatever happens in Washington must take into account the fact that it’s the states and local governments that are involved in education,” said Ohio Gov. George Voinovich. “The federal government only contributes about 6 percent of the funds.”

Education was just one of the priorities outlined by the bipartisan National Governors’ Association, which Voinovich chairs, as it opened a four-day winter meeting in Washington.

The governors want a new transportation bill enacted by May 1, before the 1998 budget is finalized, that would provide more money for roads, bridges and mass transit systems. But some in Congress fear that a significant increase in funding would kill the proposed balanced budget.

Gov. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., said the issue boils down to “fairness and equity.” On average, states receive only $2 in federal funds for every $3 they send to Washington in gas taxes, Caper said. Meanwhile, the federal transportation trust fund continues to grow. States want a greater share of that revenue, said Carper, the group’s vice chairman.

Voinovich and the other governors will press their case on this and other issues over the next few days with President Clinton and Vice President Gore, top administration officials and Congressional leaders. Two trips to the White House were scheduled - dinner Saturday night and a work session today.

Outlining the governors’ priorities for 1998, Voinovich stressed the need to protect states’ role in education. Washington lawmakers should review federally funded programs in education and other areas, he said, with the goal of turning over some of the money to states in the form of block grants that would be spent more effectively.

The governors also want to make sure that states get a fair share of any money that comes out of a national settlement with tobacco companies. They also plan to focus on early child care and issues related to the quality of health care. The states want to ensure that any new federal programs in these areas respect initiatives that states already have in place.

And the governors plan to talk to lawmakers about proposals to impose sales taxes on companies that do business over the Internet. States get a large portion of their revenues from sales taxes, and the governors say it’s unfair for Internet businesses to avoid those taxes while traditional companies must pay.

“It’s not that we want to beat up on the Internet or interfere with the Internet,” Voinovich said. “We want to work with the industry to come up with some uniform standards that everybody can live with.”

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ON THE AGENDA

The governors want a new transportation bill enacted by May 1, before the 1998 budget is finalized, that would provide more money for roads, bridges and mass transit systems.


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