WASHINGTON — As the leader of a state trying to claw through economic woes, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is finding plenty of company this weekend at a conference of the nation’s governors.
The opening session of the National Governors Association winter meeting featured Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter lecturing on building competitiveness, “and there was not an empty chair,” said Sandoval, one of 29 new governors at the conference.
At lunch, governors gave updates on what was happening back home. Most of their stories were depressingly similar in terms of budget deficits and lost jobs that need to be recovered.
“It was eerily consistent in terms of all of them, with the exception of Wyoming or one of the Dakotas,” Sandoval said. “Speaking for Nevada, I told the governors I was optimistic. I believe things are trending upwards.”
But the Republican also told colleagues the pain it may take to get there. His proposal to fix the state’s projected $1.5 billion gap for fiscal 2012 includes cuts in education and health and human services, consolidating state agencies and eliminating hundreds of state jobs.
“These are decisions I would normally not want to make, but I have made the commitment to balance our budget without raising taxes,” he said .
Most of the governors are attending the three days of seminars and meetings, where they are comparing notes, seeking advice and shoulders to lean on, and taking a measurement of how federal policies may impact economic recovery they are trying to push along from state capitals.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat who is chairman of the National Governors Association, expressed concern Saturday that budget cuts being pursued in Congress might undercut the governors’ efforts.
Sandoval had no criticism of more than $61 billion in cuts the Republican-controlled House included in a spending bill for the rest of 2011.
“I can appreciate what they are going through, because I have to do it myself,” Sandoval said. “There is a recognition in Congress that we only have so much money to spend and we have to work with what we have.”
Sandoval spoke Saturday with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and discussed renewable energy development with Jon Wellinghoff, the Nevadan who heads the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
He has scheduled meetings with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on high-speed rail, and with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and officials at the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss accelerating mining permits.
Tonight, Sandoval will take daughter Maddie, 14, to a White House dinner with President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. The leaders meet with the president the next day in a business setting.
Given the chance, Sandoval said he planned to ask Obama about a proposal he floated earlier this month that would allow states to defer interest payments on money borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits.
Sandoval wrote $66 million into his budget to cover the 4 percent interest Nevada owes for the next two years. The state has borrowed $680 million, according to the Department of Labor.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.