States Cut Into Big Government With Vengeance

In State of State addresses, governors outline plans to ax taxes, crime, regulations, welfare

THE state of the union - on many fronts - is a softened version of the states of the union.

Through this month, governors have weighed in with State of the State and inaugural addresses that quilt together a more striking pattern than the federal version.

Now under way around the country:

Tax cuts, regulation cuts by half, a constitutional amendment to allow contracting out state work, tax cuts, still more prison building, more consistent criminal sentencing, higher demands on welfare recipients, tax cuts, a Father's Summit (California, of course), more state spending on young children, tax cuts, a deadline for state bureaucrats to approve permits or the permit is automatically approved.

And did we mention tax cuts?

The driving spirit in state after state is to pare down the cost and intrusiveness of government and to promote more reliance on personal and family responsibility.

But many governors are also spending a lot of their attention on education, especially in early childhood, and often centering on strengthening and supporting the roles of parents.

A sense of rebound prevails in most states, driven by improved job creation and higher tax revenues, as governors try to rebuild confidence in the governments they run (Washington State, Page 2).

The Republican tide ran at least as strong at the state level as it did in Congress last November. The GOP took 30 gubernatorial seats, from only 20 before. Republicans also captured control of enough state senates and lower houses to give them a slight edge over Democrats at both levels.

But most governors seem to be singing in the same key regardless of party these days.

The newly reelected Democratic governor of Florida, Lawton Chiles, for instance, has proposed deleting 50 percent of all state regulations within two years. He has been trying to get a permit for over a year to build a cook shack on his panhandle property, but state requirements are driving the cost from $15,000 to $65,000, he says.

``I've concluded the Lord gave me this problem so I could understand why people hate government so much,'' he said in his State of the State address.

Soon, Governor Chiles might try building his cook shack in New Jersey, where Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) is proposing deadlines for state bureaucracies to approve permits.

``If we miss a deadline, either you get your permit approved or your money back,'' she said in her State of the State address, citing uncertainty over when and whether a permit would be approved as ``the biggest single barrier to economic prosperity in New Jersey.''

Similarly, California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) proposes amending the state constitution to require that new regulations show their costs before the Legislature passes them.

``It's only fair that lawmakers first experience the sticker shock before passing it on to producers and ultimately the consumer,'' said Governor Wilson in his annual address this month.

ON the other hand, Republicans are taking up some causes more traditionally associated with Democrats. Wilson, for example - reviled by liberals for his deep cuts in California welfare programs - proposes to double spending on prenatal care for poor working women and start a new program to provide health care for all poor, uninsured children through age 5.

Likewise, Ohio's GOP Gov. George Voinovich, touting a reinvented, pared down state government managed with ``hard-nosed efficiency,'' also says: ``I'm proud that Ohio leads the nation in state funding and the number of eligible children involved'' in Head Start preschool for poor children.

Hardly a governor is not talking about welfare reform. The theme: ``For the last 30 years, our culture has steadily replaced personal responsibility with collective guilt,'' says new Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R). The response: States are expanding programs that time-limit welfare and force recipients into the work force.

Many governors also want to discourage teen pregnancy by putting conditions on public assistance such as living with parents, staying in school, or enrolling in job training.

Overall, states have cut taxes an average of nearly 1 percent of revenue for the current fiscal year. More are on the way. New Jersey's Whitman is in the lead with still another round of income-tax cuts. California's Wilson now promises a 15 percent tax cut across the board over the next three years. Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson promises property-tax cuts without raising other taxes.

``But I think at the very core,'' says Gov. Roy Romer (D) of Colorado, ``the American people and the people of Colorado are frustrated and worried because government isn't solving problems.''

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