To take federal stimulus money for your state or not to take it.
That is the big question for Democratic and Republican governors in town for the National Governors Association meeting this weekend.
Democrats claim those Republican governors who turn down money from President Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus package are "fringe" Republicans eager to score political points. The head of the Republican governors says the Democrats are out of touch.
Governors at the conference played down a split in Republican ranks over the stimulus plan, which will send billions to states for education, health care and transportation. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a likely 2012 presidential contender, has said he would reject a portion of the money aimed at expanding state unemployment insurance.
Criticism rooted in politics?
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has said he may do so as well, as has South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the party's 2008 vice presidential nominee, has also criticized the stimulus plan but traveled to Washington last month to press for Alaska's share of the money. Palin, busy with her state's legislative session, did not attend the NGA meeting.
Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, also a potential 2012 contender and strong supporter of the stimulus plan, said the criticism leveled by other Republicans was not rooted in politics.
"I don't know that it's a partisan issue. It's different people, different CEOs — governors — who have a different perspective on how it would impact their states," Crist said in an interview. "I know it has a positive impact on Florida. A lot of that money has been paid to the federal treasury by my fellow Floridians and they deserve to get it back."
At issue for Jindal and Barbour is a provision in the stimulus bill that could allow people ineligible for unemployment benefits to receive them anyway. That could eventually force a tax increase on employers, both governors have said.
'Fringe' party members
Some Democrats took a harder line at a press conference arranged by the Democratic Governors Association to praise Obama for his leadership on the stimulus. DGA Chairman Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley dismissed the Republican detractors as "fringe" party members eager to score political points.
"All of us are committed to working with President Obama to pull our nation's economy out of the ditch that George W. Bush ran it into," O'Malley said. "If some of the fringe governors don't want to do that, they need to step aside and not stand in the way of the nation's interests."
The line drew a rebuke from Sanford, the Republican Governors Association chairman.
"I think in this instance I would humbly suggest that the real fringe are those that are supporting the stimulus," Sanford said. "It is not at all in keeping with the principles that made this country great, not at all in keeping with economic reality, not in keeping with a stable dollar, and not in keeping with the sentiments of most of this country."