Barack Obama's remarks to the National Governors Association
It always feels like a bit of a homecoming when I meet with governors. Because while I stand here today as President-elect, I will never forget the eight years I served in the state Senate in Illinois. It is in state and local government that the rubber hits the road. Of all our elected leaders, you are the ones people count on most to solve the problems in their communities and to help them get by in difficult times. And it's your state governments that bear some of the toughest burdens when an economic crisis strikes.
That is what we're seeing today.
Every one of you is struggling to come up with a budget at a time when you're facing great and growing needs. More and more people are turning to you for help with health care or affordable housing – even as tightening credit markets and falling tax revenues make it more and more difficult to provide that help.
Forty-one states are likely to face budget shortfalls this year or next, forcing you to choose between reining in spending and raising taxes. Jobs are being cut. Programs for the needy are at risk. Libraries, parks, and historic sites are being closed. Right here in Philadelphia, over two hundred workers are being laid off – and hundreds more unfilled positions are being eliminated.
Meanwhile, virtually all of you are facing the additional challenge of a state constitution that requires you to balance your budget, leaving you with the impossible choice of either helping families at the risk of violating your constitution or upholding your constitution at the expense of helping families.
To solve this crisis and to ease the burden on our states, we need action – and action now. That means passing an economic recovery plan for both Wall Street and Main Street that jumpstarts our economy, helps save or create two and a half million jobs, puts tax cuts into the pockets of hard-pressed middle class families, and makes a down payment on the investments we need to build a strong economy for years to come.
But we also have to recognize that any true solution will not come from Washington alone. It will come from all of you. It will come from the White House and the State House working together every step of the way. That is the kind of strong partnership I intend to build as President of the United States.
Today is our chance to lay the foundation for that partnership. Over the next few hours, I look forward to hearing about the problems you're facing, learning about the work you're doing, and discussing some of the ways we can work together to reduce health care costs, rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges, and schools, and ensure that more families can stay in their homes.
But the partnership we begin here must not – and will not – end here. As President, I will not simply ask our nation's governors to help implement our economic recovery plan. I will ask you to help design that plan. Because if we're listening to our governors, we'll not only be doing what's right for our states, we'll be doing what's right for our country. That's how we'll grow our economy – from the bottom-up. And that's how we'll put America on the path to long-term prosperity.
Make no mistake: these are difficult times, and we're going to have to make hard choices in the months ahead about how to invest precious tax dollars and how to save them – hard choices like the ones you're making right now. I won't stand here and tell you that you'll like all the decisions I make. You probably won't. But I promise you this – as President, I will seek your counsel. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And we will once again be true partners in the work of rebuilding our economy, strengthening our states, and lifting up our entire country.
To our Republican colleagues, let me just say a special word. I offer you the same hand of friendship and cooperation that I offer our Democratic governors. We have a strong and vibrant democracy. We compete vigorously during an election. But with the end of that season comes the time to govern together – and that time is now.
It was Justice Brandeis who said, during a period of far greater turmoil in our markets, that one of the blessings of our democracy was that – and I quote – "a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory", experimenting with innovative solutions to its economic problems. That is the spirit of courage and ingenuity that so many of you embody. And that is the spirit I want to reclaim in this country – one where our states are testing new ideas, where Washington is investing in what works, and where you and I are working in partnership to move this country forward.