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Govs use speeches to preach austerity, unity

By Beth Fouhy

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 6 2011 2:02 p.m. MST

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2011 file photo, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton address the inauguration attendees after he took the oath of office as Minnesota governor from Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea in St. Paul, Minn.

Jim Mone, File, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Words like "unity" and "shared sacrifice" are in. Dire predictions are leavened with a sense of optimism. And residents are called to live up to the legacy of their states' heroes — like Connecticut's Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin; the astronauts who blasted into space from Florida; and the pioneers who settled California.

Confronting high unemployment and record deficits, governors are using their inaugural speeches to pledge fiscal austerity, job creation and a broad effort to rebuild public trust in state government.

Thirty-seven governors — 23 Republicans, 13 Democrats and one independent — were elected or re-elected in November. Most are being sworn in in January and are using the high-profile platform of the inaugural address to describe the perilous fiscal environment they face.

"To those who sincerely believe the state budget can be balanced with no tax increase, I say: If you can do so without destroying our schools, hospitals, and public safety, please send me your bill and I will sign it immediately," Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, said Monday.

Together, state budget shortfalls are expected to total nearly $140 billion in fiscal year 2012, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank. And while the national unemployment rate is 9.8 percent, many states are faring even worse — Nevada's rate is 14.3 percent, Michigan and California are at 12.4 percent, and Rhode Island is stuck at 11.6 percent.

Such dire circumstances will force hard choices on governors, nearly all of whom are required to balance state budgets.

In his inaugural speech, Jerry Brown, a Democrat, referred to Californians' intrepid spirit as he outlined the monumental task ahead: closing a budget deficit estimated at $28 billion over 18 months.

"From the native peoples who survived the total transformation of their way of life, to the most recent arrival, stories of courage abound. And it's not over," Brown said.

In Florida, Republican Rick Scott struck a heroic note as well, saying: "We have always been the destination of dreamers, the place where someone with a big new idea could give it a try. Railroads in the wilderness, a magic kingdom, a trip to the moon, freedom from a foreign tyrant, better health, life without winter."

Some governors are urging that politics be set aside for the greater good.

Maine's Paul LePage, a Republican popular with tea party activists, noted in his speech that the Maine Constitution never mentions the word "politics." And Connecticut's Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, said in his address: "We will need to solve our problems together — by pursuing with great urgency not Republican ideas or Democratic ideas, but good ideas that know no political master or agenda."

To be sure, other governors are setting a more partisan tone.

Republican Sean Parnell of Alaska, whose state receives more assistance from Washington than any other, used his inaugural address last month to decry a federal government "bent on expanding its regulatory reach at the cost of freedom and prosperity." He added, "Alaskans are hardworking, smart, and we possess something in short supply in Washington — common sense."

Arizona Republican Jan Brewer accused President Barack Obama and her Democratic predecessor, current Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, of causing Arizona's problems.

"I took the helm of a marvelous state that had been poorly commanded ... and dead in the water," Brewer said Monday. "And a federal government whose unfunded mandates and sweetheart deals were stealing Arizona's freedom and threatening to bankrupt our state."

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