Governors attending a regional summit of the National Governors Association in Nashville Monday see themselves as being on the front line of job creation in America.
They also see a federal government that is not.
“Our states can be great laboratories for democracy at how we can solve some of our nation’s problems,” Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma said. “I get really frustrated that Washington doesn’t always deal with solutions to the problems. They spend a lot of time being partisan, debating, but here in our states we’re able to work on those exact solutions to help bring some ideas forth.”
Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi went right at Washington for taking its eye off the ball, in his estimation.
“Governors are more focused on job creation and economic growth than anybody else in government because we deal with it on a daily basis,” Barbour said. “When jobs are lost in Mississippi or Oklahoma or Tennessee or Nebraska, the governor knows about it the day it happens.
“When jobs are created, we also are the first ones to try to get out there and pat the people on the back and tell them they need to do more of it. Unfortunately, the federal government is not focused enough on job creation. For the first few years of this administration, most of the time was spent on health care.”
Barbour said it is a case of a “more-than-one-year-long absorption of the federal government’s attention to create a government-run health care system that is going to make health care more expensive.
“Ironically, the effect of that on job creation, our No. 1 priority, is that when employers don’t understand and have no way of knowing the obligations and costs of providing health care for their employees, how do they create more jobs?”
Uncertainty has been one of the key elements of economic discussions across the nation. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who hosted the summit at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, has repeatedly noted a lack of confidence both among potential employers who would have to risk capital and consumers who are reluctant to spend in the current environment.
But there seemed to be agreement among the four governors at the summit that government’s role is not to create jobs but simply create an environment conducive to job growth.
That theme played out in references to too much government regulation and the value of tort reform. But in Haslam’s own state, there has been debate about the premise that government cannot create jobs.
Democrats have conducted a “jobs tour” across the state, looking for ideas on the heels of a legislative session in which they offered a package of jobs bills. The fundamental difference in approaches does not appear likely to go away. But neither will the overwhelming Republican majority in the General Assembly, meaning many of the Democrats’ efforts will be an uphill climb for them.
The governors did find other topics apart from bashing Washington. One favorable trend they see is that due to the price of transportation and a lessening of the wage gap, jobs that had gone overseas are beginning to return to the United States. They also see the ability of small businesses to grow as a key factor in job growth.
But then there was an old-fashioned sense of patriotic optimism as well.
“What was it, 20 years ago, Japan was going to take over the world? The United States was going to lose its competitive edge,” Heineman said. “We won that one. We’re going to win this one, too.”