- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

The governor of Arkansas wants to tap the state’s $100 million budget surplus — and even drain it if necessary. Tennessee is dipping into its rainy-day fund. Massachusetts is rushing through an emergency spending bill, hoping to get repaid later.

States facing new budget demands from an influx of Katrina victims are opting to help now and sort out the bill down the road.

“Whatever strain it puts on South Carolina cannot compare to what’s happening in the Gulf, so I think we need to take as many as we can,” said Mayor Bob Coble in Columbia.

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry spoke for many on Tuesday when he talked about a desire to help tempered by the concern that “we don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin.”

“We know it will be a strain,” Mr. Henry said. “I think we will be OK.”

In Texas, eight applications for food stamps in one day grew to more than 26,000 within four days.

On the bright side, the hurricane hit just as state budgets are starting to perk up after a protracted fiscal crunch.

A study released by the nation’s governors this summer found that tax receipts beat expectations in 42 states during the budget year that ended in June. Long-delayed spending needs and rising costs for education and Medicaid still are putting heavy pressure on state budgets.

In many places, concerns about cost were taking a back seat to the impulse to help, at least for now.

In Arkansas, 70,000 to 100,000 evacuees are expected, or about 3 percent of the state’s population.

Gov. Mike Huckabee said, “If the state surplus is used in part or in whole for this, it will have been used for as valid a need as we’ve ever had.”

That thought was echoed in South Carolina, which prepared to take in as many as 18,000 refugees.

“The cost associated with this is kind of secondary at the moment,” said Chris Drummond, a spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford, adding that the state still remembers the help it got when hit by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. “We’re going to return the favor.”

States also are counting on significant help from the federal government, which approved a $10.5 billion down payment for hurricane relief last week. Congress is likely to approve far more in the days ahead, including assistance for housing, health care and education.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said that, by Tuesday afternoon, more than 315,000 households had registered for state and federal disaster assistance and that the agency had committed $2.8 billion through various programs.

Texas expects FEMA “to reimburse us 100 percent for everything,” said Robert Black, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry.


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