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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks to media after the opening news conference for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association in Salt Lake City Friday, July 15, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — The nation's governors kicked off their three-day meeting here Friday with a plea to Washington, D.C. to resolve the crisis over raising the federal debt ceiling.

"We can ill afford the debate that's going on in Washington, D.C.," National Governors Association Chairwoman Chris Gregoire, governor of Washington state, said.

The Democratic governor called on Congress and the administration to find a resolution that won't reverse the states' already vulnerable economic recovery.

For every dollar cut as part of the compromise being hammered out in advance of the Aug. 2 deadline set by the U.S. Treasury Department, Gregoire said "one third of it will come to the doorstep of the states."

Governors, she said, have to make the tough choices needed to balance their state's budgets.

"We understand what it takes. We've done it. We've been there," Gregoire said. "So we, the governors of this country, are saying, 'Get on with it. Get it done. We did. You can.'"

She warned there could be dire consequences if a deal isn't reached.

"If it's not done right, and I'm not exaggerating here, because of how fragile the economy is in some of our states, it can trigger them to slide back again," Gregoire said. "That's the last thing I think Congress would want to see happen." 

Gov. Gary Herbert said he wasn't sure what would happen if the debt ceiling is not raised.

"You hear people give different predictions as far as what if, and I don't know the what if," Herbert told reporters. "But I do know this, that we've got to, in fact, bring some fiscal restraint to our spending in government. We cannot become this 'nanny state' where we do everything for all people from cradle to grave."

Herbert is one of a handful of governors who have signed a "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge that calls for federal budget cuts, spending caps and the passage of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Although Gregoire and the Republican vice-chairman of NGA, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, both said they would not sign the pledge, Herbert said he believed it would further rather than hinder discussions about how to return Washington, D.C. to what he termed "fiscal prudence." 

"It's probably not the only way, but it's a way," he said. "We need to do something."

Heineman echoed Gregoire's message to Washington, D.C.

"Make a decision back there," he said. "You know what? The people of your state and this country will respect you if you do it."

Herbert also used the press conference to welcome 32 governors to Utah for the annual meeting from the sixth floor of Rice-Eccles Stadium with a sweeping view of the Salt Lake Valley behind him.

Herbert noted Utah has not hosted an annual meeting of the NGA since 1947, but that the commitment of the  governors "to speak with a collective voice on national policy" has not changed over time.

The focus of the three day meeting, which is headquartered at the Grand America Hotel and continues through Sunday, is boosting economic growth and job creation through higher education.

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Later Friday, four Chinese provincial leaders joined with their U.S. counterparts for a first-ever forum. The largely ceremonial event focused on economic and energy development, environmental concerns and education.

Herbert asked the Chinese leaders what gets in the way of fostering relationships between U.S. states and Chinese provinces and was told by Zhao Hongzhu, party secretary of Zhejiang Province, that differences just need to be aired.

"I would have to say even in a family there are some displeasures or frictions," Zhao said.  

The Chinese leaders are also involved in a U.S.-China trade conference going on at the Little America Hotel across the street through Sunday.

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