The Great GOP Divide among governors was on display yesterday as Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist appeared with President Obama during a pep-rally stop in the Sunshine State to tout the economic stimulus package.
Florida’s schools have been among the hardest hit across the country as cuts have forced them to lay off teachers and trim programs. Legislative leaders predict next year’s state budget deficit could reach $5 billion, and already, the governor has pushed through a $2.5 billion package of cuts for this budget year and next.
Given his state’s dire straits—with a huge home foreclosure crisis and pockets of very high unemployment—it’s no big surprise that Crist was one of four Republican governors to sign a letter in support of the stimulus package. (Crist may also be making sure the state can get a waiver from so-called “maintenance of effort” provisions that require the state to spend on schools what it spent in 2006 -- a tall order since school funding has been cut to levels lower than that year.) The others were Connecticut’s Jodi Rell, Vermont’s Jim Douglas, and California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it’s no wonder Schwarzenegger has signed on—he’s got a gigantic budget mess on his hands.
But lining up in opposition to the stimulus package are fellow Republican Govs. Sarah Palin of Alaska, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Rick Perry of Texas and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.
Of course, there’s plenty of political ideology at work (a couple of those governors have national ambitions and Sanford, especially, is a hard-line budget hawk.) However, it’s important to note that their budgets don’t have the glaring budget gaps that others do. According to the latest report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, Alaska has a budget deficit worth about 4 percent of Palin’s general fund budget, isn’t reporting a budget deficit next budget year, and has billions in oil and natural gas profits in a special reserve fund. In Texas, Perry is in a similar position: His state also enjoys oil profits, isn’t reporting a budget deficit now, and faces a shortfall of just 5 percent next budget year. Mississippi, under Barbour, is reporting a 4 percent budget deficit this year and none next year. Jindal, in Louisiana, has closed his budget deficit but does, potentially, face a double-digit one next year.
So, it may be a little easier to oppose the stimulus when your state—including your schools—aren’t in desperate and immediate need of the money.