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On Washington visit, Gov. Gary Herbert says falling off fiscal cliff could put Utah into recession

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 2015 4:12 a.m. MDT

National Governors Association (NGA) Vice Chair, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, center, talks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, following a meeting between the NGA executive committee and President Barack Obama regarding the fiscal cliff. From left are, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Fallin, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, and NGA Chairman, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. (Associated Press) National Governors Association (NGA) Vice Chair, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, center, talks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, following a meeting between the NGA executive committee and President Barack Obama regarding the fiscal cliff. From left are, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Fallin, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, and NGA Chairman, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. (Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert left the White House on Tuesday thinking he might have to prepare two state budgets — one if the nation tumbles over the so-called fiscal cliff and one if it doesn't.

Utah currently is looking at $420 million in new growth for the coming budget year. But state economists estimate Utah would lose not only that but another $500 million if Congress and President Barack Obama don't reach an agreement on spending cuts, tax rates and other financial issues, Herbert said.

Herbert, who will release his proposed 2013-14 budget in a week or so, said he wants to use the new money for public education, infrastructure and health and human services.

If Washington fails to do something in the next month, "we would have to go back to cutting, and the belief is we would go back into a recessionary economy," he said.

Herbert was among six governors — both Republicans and Democrats — who met with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and their economic advisers. They also sat down with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The governors are members of the National Governors Association executive committee.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, right, speaks as President Barack Obama meets with members of the National Governors Association regarding the fiscal cliff Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington. Counter clockwise from Walker are, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Budget Director Jeff Zients, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs David Agnew, Director of National Economic Council Gene Sperling, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and the president. (Charles Dharapak, AP) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, right, speaks as President Barack Obama meets with members of the National Governors Association regarding the fiscal cliff Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington. Counter clockwise from Walker are, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Budget Director Jeff Zients, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs David Agnew, Director of National Economic Council Gene Sperling, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and the president. (Charles Dharapak, AP)

"Doing nothing is not an option from our perspective," Herbert said. "It was just a 'git 'er done' kind of attitude."

Herbert other governors, often an afterthought in Washington, he said, received more attention than he expected. He and Gov. Jack Markell, D-Del., were scheduled to be appear Tuesday night with Piers Morgan on CNN.

The governor also met with members of Utah's congressional delegation whom he characterized as a "little more pessimistic" about finding a resolution.

After the meeting with Obama, the governors described the discussion as wide-ranging, touching on economic growth, spending cuts and health care.

Herbert and Gov. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., both talked to the president about giving states more discretion in administering federal programs, especially in the face of spending cuts.

"Just don't put a lot of unfunded mandates back on the states and tie our hands as governors when they have to make some tough choices about the spending cuts that will come down to the states," Fallin said.

National Governors Association executive committee members (L-R) Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell talk to reporters after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Dec. 4, 2012, in Washington, D.C. The bipartisan group of governors met with the president to discuss the National Governors Association executive committee members (L-R) Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell talk to reporters after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Dec. 4, 2012, in Washington, D.C. The bipartisan group of governors met with the president to discuss the "fiscal cliff." (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

Democrats, Herbert said, don't like block grants, but Republicans do because of the flexibility they afford states in deciding how to use the money.

"I believe in my heart the states can do more with less and help the federal government balance its budget," he said.

Obama seemed willing to consider more leeway for states as long as his goals were met as well, the governors said.

"I'm going to take him up on that," Herbert said.

Herbert said the president suggested he work with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in maintaining Utah's health insurance exchange known as Avenue H. The Affordable Care Act mandates the exchanges, which may be established by the states or left up to the federal government to run.

The governor recently sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebilius saying Utah intends continue the program it set up several years ago.

National Governors Association (NGA) Executive Committee members , Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, left, and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, right, are seen outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, following a meeting with President Barack Obama regarding the fiscal cliff. (Associated Press) National Governors Association (NGA) Executive Committee members , Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, left, and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, right, are seen outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, following a meeting with President Barack Obama regarding the fiscal cliff. (Associated Press)

Herbert said he's going to test the president on that issue by "aggressively and proactively" working with the federal health department.

Overall, the governor said, the meetings focused on finding solutions. There seems to be agreement among Republicans and Democrats on growing the economy and closing tax loopholes for the rich, Herbert said. The sticking point, he said, is raising tax rates.

"I actually left hopeful that they're going to find a resolution and keep us from going over the fiscal cliff," Herbert said.

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