President Bush
White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian
President Bush

President Bush declined to embrace the idea of a public works stimulus measure.

In a meeting, governors from around the U.S. made a pitch for more federal aid for highways, bridges and other infrastructure—with some seeking to have funds included in a new economic stimulus measure.

After the Feb. 25 White House meeting, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) told reporters that governors sought increased federal public works funding but said that Bush "didn't think he would be interested." She said the President wanted to see how the stimulus measure enacted on Feb. 13 works out. That $168-billion legislation focuses on tax rebates for individual taxpayers and depreciation benefits for businesses. It has no infrastructure funds.

Gregoire said many governors believe that a follow-on stimulus bill is needed and should provide aid to states for infrastructure projects that are "ready to go," and would create jobs.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said that "it would be premature" to say that Bush closed the door to a second stimulus bill. She said that Bush "had an open mind when he listened to [the governors] but he did say he was very concerned about any proposal that would raise taxes." Perino also said Bush wants to make sure that the newly enacted stimulus measure "will have the desired effect of blunting any possible effect of a slowdown in the economy that we do expect because of the housing and credit issues."

Governors said that in the White House meeting, no specific proposal or funding level was discussed.

In January, before Congress passed the stimulus bill, the National Governors Association proposed including $12 billion in "state countercyclical funding" in the package. In a Jan. 23 letter sent to Bush, NGA's Chair, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), and its Vice-Chair, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D), said the proposal would include $6 billion in Medicaid assistance and $6 billion "in a flexible block grant."

An American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials survey released Feb. 1 identified more than 3,071 highway projects totaling $17.9 billion that could be started within 30 to 90 days.

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt [R] said there was a feeling among governors "that the federal government needs to do more on infrastructure." Regarding Bush's reaction to a new public works stimulus plan, Blunt said, "I didn't get the impression that he absolutely ruled it out. I did get the clear impression that he wanted to see the results of the first stimulus package."

In a related development, 13 governors announced their support for the Building America's Future coalition, formed in January to push for more federal public works funding. The coalition is led by Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D), California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [R] and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Governors who signed on to the coalition Jan. 24 were: Democrats Gregoire of Washington; John Baldacci (Maine); Jon Corzine (N.J.); Jennifer Granholm (Mich.); Tim Kaine (Va.); Janet Napolitano (Ariz.); Martin O'Malley (Md.); Deval Patrick (Mass.); Bill Ritter (Colo.); and Eliot Spitzer (N.Y). Republican governors adding their support were: Donald Carcieri (R.I.); Charlie Crist (Fla.); and Jim Douglas (Vt.).

The White House meeting came as the NGA gathered in Washington Feb. 23-25 for its annual winter conference.