Hands wide open


Most of the nation's governors have the same plan to address years of overspending, crashing tax collections, sorry economic forecasts and huge looming budget deficits: They have their hands out to Washington.

The Obama administration and the Democratic Congress bailed out state governments early last year with a big chunk of their "stimulus" giveaway. The money allowed many states, including Nevada, to enact overall spending increases despite the deepening recession. Public-sector union jobs and benefits and welfare programs were protected for the short term, and the tough fiscal decisions that lawmakers and governors should have made in 2008 and 2009 were instead delayed until at least 2010.

Now that all the debt-financed federal largess is built into every state's baseline budget, the prospect of having to take it out is simply too painful for most governors to bear. Doing so would require lawmakers to raise taxes or dramatically cut spending, or anger partisans of every stripe by doing some combination of both.

But to make matters worse, just about every state is deep in debt to the federal government for borrowing heavily to pay unemployment benefits. Nevada, for example, already owes $450 million, and the state's employers are facing higher taxes next year to begin repaying those loans.

So last week's meeting of the National Governors Association featured a common refrain: Washington needs to help the states, even if it adds more red ink to the country's exploding national debt.

In particular, the governors want a federal bailout of their Medicaid programs, which provide fully subsidized health care for low-income and lower-middle-class residents. Congress, you'll recall, made Medicaid expansion a central part of ObamaCare. The law requires that states pick up all the costs of that expansion in a just a few years.

Most state governments, including Nevada's, are required to balance their operational budgets. Unlike Washington, they can't go into debt to cover every politician's wish list and special-interest favor. That's a good thing.

But watching Congress spend to infinity and beyond without accountability has a majority of the nation's governors seeking the easy way out. The country's already $13 trillion in debt, they argue. An additional $10 billion to $20 billion is a rounding error in comparison.

We can't borrow forever. And state taxpayers are also federal taxpayers. They're getting crushed no matter how you skew the numbers. The bailouts have to stop -- right now.

 

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