GOP to Shift Power to the States but Some Governors Worry That New Federalism Era in Washington Will Mean Bigger Burdens for Them

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NEWT GINGRICH and company may be drawing the attention these days, but if the new Republican barons of Capitol Hill are as good as their word, power will shift out of town to places like Trenton, N.J., Madison, Wis., and Sacramento, Calif.

Ask a Republican Party pro where the future of the party lies, and the answer is often, with the governors - state executives who in various instances have cut taxes, reformed welfare, and won reelection this month by thunderous landslides, although few paid attention.

For the moment, at least, the public seems to agree with this view. According to a post-election study by Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group for the Republican National Committee, voters were even more strongly Republican at the gubernatorial level than at the House or Senate level.

Voters tend to judge Republican governors, such as Christine Whitman of New Jersey, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, John Engler of Michigan, William Weld of Massachusetts, and George Voinovich of Ohio, to be performing in a way Congress is not, Mr. Goeas says.

Governor Whitman, who has cut New Jersey income taxes by 15 percent in less than a year in office, was one of the party's star fund-raising speakers this year.

The promise of the new Republican sway in Congress and statehouses around the country is of greater freedom and power for state governments - resuming a trend toward decentralizing government that began under President Reagan.

The risk is that small-government conservatives in Washington will leave more tabs for the states to pick up without giving them the leeway to cut their costs.

"Some good things could come out of this for the states, but these guys have got to settle down," says Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), chairman of the National Governors' Association, referring to the new leadership in Congress.

When Ronald Reagan began his New Federalism program to shift power back to state and local governments, he was reversing 50 years of massive growth in federal power. By cutting taxes and allowing large deficits, Reagan weakened the main lever of federal power: money.

But Washington began relying on another tool: mandates. What the federal government could no longer afford to do, it could require of others. "Indeed, when its ability to make grants declined, the federal government turned increasingly to mandates as a means of controlling state and local activity without having to pay the bill," wrote White House budget director Alice Rivlin in a recent book promoting stronger state governments. …