Ohio Governor John Kasich, facing an economic crisis not seen for decades, gave his constituents a warning last month in his inaugural address: “Put on the seat belt.”
The belts have been buckled, in Columbus and throughout the U.S. This weekend, Kasich is joining his peers at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington as states face deficits that may total $125 billion in 2012, and protests have erupted in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and elsewhere after attempts to limit collective-bargaining rights for public employees.
Labor groups plan a protest Feb. 27 against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at the meeting “asking him to go home and kill the bill,” the AFL-CIO said in an e-mail.
Walker may not be there. He doesn’t plan to attend as long as 14 Democratic senators remain in Illinois to prevent a vote on his union bill, Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for Walker, said in a telephone interview from Madison.
The weekend meeting allows the governors, especially the 29 new state chief executives, to compare notes, said Raymond C. Scheppach, executive director of the association. It’s the largest number of new governors to attend the annual meeting, he said.
“This really is their first meeting together,” Scheppach said in a telephone interview Feb. 24.
The confab, which runs from tomorrow through Feb. 28, includes a black-tie evening Feb. 27 at the White House with governors and their spouses and President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. The next day, the governors meet with the president and members of his cabinet.
Tomorrow’s opening session is focused on job creation with the title, “Growing a Competitive State Economy.” It concludes with remarks from Zhou Qiang, the party secretary of the Hunan Provincial Committee in China.
Sunday’s panels include discussions about education, public finance and Medicaid. The meeting concludes with a speech from Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corp. and co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Scheppach said he expects that through the weekend, “budget cutting will be a fair amount of the conversation.”
“We will never again have such an opportunity to reform and correct the spending habits and processes that have brought us to this dire situation,” South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said in her Jan. 19 State of the State address. “This year has to be the year we make the tough-but-right decisions so that, going forward, this process doesn’t hurt as much as it does today.”
Besides the panel sessions, there will be several “governors-only” meetings without reporters or staff present, to enable them to get to know each other and talk about the issues facing their states, Scheppach said.
Kasich and Walker in particular are becoming friends and have been exchanging phone calls and e-mails in recent weeks as the protests escalated in their respective states, said Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesman.
“A number of these governors he has developed a friendship with because they are involved with similar circumstances,” Nichols said in a telephone interview from Columbus.
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