Clinton: Governments should be more responsible

Former President Bill Clinton speaks at the State Budget Task Force meeting at the National Constitution Center, where he was the keynote speaker at a symposium on federalism.
Former President Bill Clinton speaks at the State Budget Task Force meeting at the National Constitution Center, where he was the keynote speaker at a symposium on federalism. (ANDREW RENNEISEN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 27, 2013

Former President Bill Clinton called Tuesday for state governments to use the recent economic crisis as a teachable moment and consider overhauling their budgeting processes.

Clinton gave the keynote address at a symposium on federalism at the National Constitution Center on Tuesday afternoon.

Drawing on his 12-year tenure as governor of Arkansas, Clinton argued that budget shortfalls in capitals across the country highlight the need to question the fiscal relationship among the federal, state, and local governments.

"We shouldn't let this crisis pass without using it as an opportunity to reform budget systems up and down the line, and they essentially need to be more conservative and responsible," Clinton said. "I believe, if you can't print money, then you're playing Russian roulette with your future if you don't do that."

Clinton's 45-minute speech was the coda of the symposium hosted by the State Budget Crisis Task Force, which issued a report last year detailing fiscal threats in six states, including New Jersey.

In his introduction of Clinton, former Gov. Ed Rendell called on Pennsylvania to "do the right thing" and help the Philadelphia School District close its looming $304 million budget shortfall.

Though Clinton addressed the relationship among levels of government with regard to Medicaid and infrastructure and referenced specific initiatives in Pennsylvania, he did not comment on the School District's problems.

Clinton also criticized what he said was an emerging consensus to cut nondefense discretionary spending, saying politicians were attracted to these cuts simply because they are less politically toxic. The real lesson of the recession, he said, was the need to debate more fundamental issues.

"Is it going to be necessary to redefine the mission of state and local government in the next 20 years?" Clinton asked. "Are there some things that we have gotten used to being done at the state and local level that we need to become unused to?"

Earlier speakers Tuesday included Mayor Nutter and former White House chief of staff John Sununu.


Contact Theodore Schleifer at 215-854-5607, tschleifer@phillynews.com, or follow @teddyschleifer on Twitter.

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