Clinton Plan Draws Praise for Aiding State Fiscal Policy

Article excerpt

By Michael deCourcy Hinds

N.Y. Times News Service

President Clinton's economic plan is drawing praise from a bipartisan collection of governors and from experts on state fiscal policy, who say that for the first time in years Washington has stopped trying to shift costly programs to the states.

Of two dozen governors who responded to inquiries over the past week, Democrats uniformly approved of the president's plan, and even Republicans who opposed it on the ground that it would increase taxes on income and energy nevertheless welcomed its proposed infusions of federal money.

Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois, a Republican, applauded Clinton's "infrastructure initiatives to stimulate economic recovery." And Gov. Pete Wilson of California, another Republican, said he found "much to like, much to applaud," including plans to reduce the deficit and reorganize welfare as a two-year job-training program.

The experts in fiscal policy said Clinton's plan would radically change 12 years of Federal-state relations, a period in which the federal government transferred more responsibilities to the states than at any other time in American history, according to the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

As governor of Arkansas, Clinton spearheaded some of the governors' losing battles over shifting programs to states without paying for them. As a presidential candidate, he complained that the federal government was creating too many inflexible and costly programs that reduced a state's ability to cope with social and financial problems it considered more pressing.

Clinton is not proposing to roll back 12 years of federal mandates, but he does not add new ones. In addition, his economic stimulus package calls for spending about $15 billion in the states in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, including $3.75 billion for transportation, $850 million to comply with federal clean-water standards, $300 million for immunizations and $1 billion for summer employment.

In the 1980s, by comparison, the Reagan and Bush administrations reduced federal aid to the states by 15 percent and to local governments by 55 percent, after accounting for inflation.

"It looks like a new ball game for the states," said Steven D. Gold, director of the Center for the Study of the States at the Rockefeller Institute in Albany, N.Y. "At least in the first inning, the federal government is proposing to help the states instead of shifting burdens to them."

Arthur L. Jones, a deputy press secretary to Clinton, said, "It had always been the president's idea to have the element of fairness measured at every level, including the relationship between the federal government and the states, and I think that has been accomplished. …