Published Online: June 25, 1997

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Gov. Fob James Jr. of Alabama says he does not plan to renew his state's membership in the National Governors' Association, making him the first governor to opt out of the Washington-based organization since its inception in 1908.

A spokesman for Gov. James said the decision was based both on the bottom line and what the governor considers the association's "rather liberal" philosophical leanings, despite the fact that a majority--32--of the nation's governors are, like Mr. James, Republicans.

The NGA "was not a productive use of tax dollars," spokesman David Azbell said last week. When Gov. James needs information from another state, he "can pick up the phone and speak to any governor in the nation at any time."

NGA member dues are based, in part, on each state's population. Alabama owed about $100,000 annually. The Washington-based association has a $13 million annual budget, a third of which comes from dues; the rest comes from grants and private contributions.

Gov. James' move mirrors that made by Georgia state Superintendent Linda Schrenko, who criticized the membership fees and politics of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers and quit the organization in 1995.

Other Republican governors are considering leaving the NGA as well. Kirk Fordice of Mississippi, George W. Bush of Texas, Jim Geringer of Wyoming, and Fife Symington of Arizona also feel that the group is costly and out of touch with its membership, their staff members say. Doug Cole, the chief of staff for Mr. Symington, said that the governor was in the midst of evaluating "what Arizona gets for its $80,000-plus dollars" in annual dues.

Richard Urey, a spokesman for the NGA's chairman, Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, a Democrat, said the association is invaluable to governors, especially as the federal government returns more responsibility to the states.

The NGA chairmanship rotates each year between a Democratic and Republican governor. Mr. Urey said it was "completely inaccurate" to portray the NGA as liberal. The group's reports and recommendations represent a consensus of all 50 governors, not the association staff, he said.

--KERRY A. WHITE kwhite@epe.org

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