Governors Hope to Find Ally in Clinton over Federal Funds

Article excerpt

TULSA _ The nation's governors, meeting in Tulsa for their annual convention, expect to find an ally in President Clinton when they ask once again for fewer strings attached to federal money.

Clinton, a former governor who was chairman of the bipartisan National Governors' Association in 1986, already has promised latitude to states on education, welfare and health care reforms.

Forty-six governors from the 50 states, three territories and Puerto Rico and Northern Mariana Islands plan to attend the four-day convention beginning Saturday.

Clinton will speak Monday, probably on health care reform; Vice President Gore will speak Sunday on reinventing government. After Clinton's speech, governors will meet privately with the president for lunch.

U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley also will talk about Clinton's education reforms Monday.

Organizers said governors will urge Clinton to allow states to decide how best to meet future, federally mandated reforms, especially on health care, instead of handing down strict guidelines.

"The president certainly can appreciate this. He's been in our shoes," Oklahoma Gov. David Walters said. "Governors always are interested in more flexibility. That plea will always be constant."

That plea is nothing new, either. In a survey in April by The Associated Press, most governors said they need more flexibility spending federal money, mostly on Medicaid, the health program for the poor.

And Clinton so far seems willing to go along. Oregon already has been allowed to place limits on the types of treatments covered under Medicaid.

Vermont was allowed to cut welfare benefits for people who don't find jobs or accept public service work after 2 years receiving Aid to Families With Dependent Children.

Oklahoma is working on a plan to develop "Family Health Accounts," or tax-free savings accounts used to pay insurance premiums and other health expenses. Such a plan would require changes to federal tax laws.

"There is a great deal of confidence among governors. Clinton has given us enormous flexibility for Medicaid waivers," said Walters, chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association.

"Part of the issue now is getting broader, general flexibility, but in the meantime, streamlining the waiver process," said Rae Young Bond, spokeswoman for the association. …