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WASHINGTON - The nation's governors on Saturday welcomed money heading their way from President Obama's economic stimulus plan, but said it was only a down payment on improving dire fiscal conditions in their states.
Most also downplayed criticism of the plan by a handful of Republicans, who have said they may reject some of the stimulus funds.
Leaders of most of the 50 states and U.S. territories were attending the three-day winter meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington. The meeting focused on the need for infrastructure improvement, which is expected to absorb much of the stimulus funding directed to states.
Several of the governors were escaping drama in their own states, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who signed the state's overdue budget last week after a bruising battle with lawmakers over how to plug the state's mammoth $41 billion budget hole.
Another was newly minted Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois, the former lieutenant governor promoted after his predecessor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, was impeached and removed for trying to sell Obama's former Senate seat for cash and favors. But the federal stimulus money remained the central focus for most governors. Most said it was hardly a bailout and that they were still facing painful cuts to state services.
"We're not just getting a handout here - we're doing the heavy lifting," Vermont GOP Gov. Jim Douglas said. "We're still making tough cuts in budgets, we're making changes in some of our programs. We're doing what we can to live within our means."
For the most part, governors downplayed an apparent 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. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has said he may do so as well.
Other Republicans believed to be eyeing a 2012 presidential bid have also criticized the stimulus plan as too big and wasteful, including South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Gov. Sarah Palin, the party's 2008 vice presidential nominee.