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In Talking To Their States, Governors Keep An Eye On Washington

From Superstorm Sandy to gun laws to the fiscal cliff, national issues are on the minds and the lips of the nation's governors setting their state agendas this week.

Some want Congress and President Obama to act; others urged state legislators to do what Congress hasn't.

"No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. End the madness now," an impassioned New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday in calling for the state to enact the "toughest assault weapon ban in the nation, period."

"Gun violence has been on a rampage," Cuomo, a Democrat, said in his annual State of the State address in Albany. "We must stop the madness, my friends, and in one word, it's just enough. It has been enough."

In neighboring Connecticut, scene of last month's massacre in the town of Newtown, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy pointedly rejected the National Rifle Association's proposal to arm school personnel.

"Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher," said Malloy, who added that state gun restrictions have limited impact. "This conversation has to take place nationally."

Malloy's comments came Wednesday during his annual new year address to lawmakers.

"As long as weapons continue to travel up and down I-95, what is available for sale in Florida or Virginia can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut," he said.

Also Wednesday, leaders of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., said a failure to resolve all of the fiscal cliff issues has put handcuffs on the states.

"Our economies are tightly linked to the national economy," Gov. Jack Markell, D-Del., said while giving part of what the NGA called its first "State of the States" speech. "And as a result, our states' prosperity depends, the prosperity of our citizens depend, in no small measure on the ability of our public servants in Washington to come to terms on a path forward."

"One of the largest uncertainties concerns elements of the fiscal cliff that were either postponed or left out" of the New Year's Day deal signed by President Obama, he said. "If the debt limit is not increased soon, there will be disruptions in federal spending, there will be disruptions in capital markets that could greatly impact state operations. And until these issues are resolved, states will not be able to make fully informed financial plans."

Gov. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., who followed Markell, said deficit reduction and dealing with the mandatory across-the-board spending cuts that were postponed for two months should be the focus on Capitol Hill.

"How Washington deals with those issues will ... have an immediate direct effect upon our states and certainly could have grave implications to our states, and especially our budget," she said.

A day after New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie spent most of his annual address discussing the aftermath of Sandy and calling for more federal assistance, Cuomo of New York also called on Congress to help.

"We need and we deserve federal assistance," said Cuomo. Last week, Congress approved $9.7 billion in funding to the National Flood Insurance Program, and has promised to act soon on $51 billion in other aid. Cuomo said the relief so far is "too little, and it is too late."

Cuomo also proposed raising the state's hourly minimum wage from an "unlivable" $7.25 (which has been the federal minimum wage since 2009) to $8.75; and tougher state greenhouse standards, because "climate change is real."

But the issue of gun control dominated the speech. Cuomo said he owns a gun and noted, "We respect hunters and sportsmen," but called for a ban on high-capacity gun magazines, background checks for the sale of guns from private owners, and a move to "keep guns from people who are mentally ill."

"It is about ending the unnecessary risk of high-capacity assault rifles."

In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden is heading a group studying possible federal responses to curb gun violence, but any significant action on Capitol Hill will face strong opposition from the NRA and its allies.

Cuomo and Christie are potential presidential candidates in 2016. Another possible candidate, outgoing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, was to deliver his final State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night, a day after proposing that the state eliminate its 17.5 cent-per-gallon gasoline tax and replace it with a small increase in the state's sales tax to fund transportation projects.

On Tuesday, Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry urged continued spending restraint despite rosy state revenue projections that have some Democrats calling for revisiting recent budget cuts. The 2012 presidential candidate called the state's budget surplus "a chance to put our fiscal house in order for years to come."

And in North Dakota, where an oil and natural gas boom in the western part of the state is fueling one of the nation's most robust economies, Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple proposed new spending on roads projects and housing. He called this "an incredible moment in our state's history."

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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