“Flexible federalism” themes likely for OK Gov. Fallin in National Press Club speech

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin will preview the coming year for America’s chief executives in a September 17 speech at the National Press Club

On tap to become new chair of the National Governors Association (NGA), Fallin will unveil her agenda as the group’s top officer for 2013-14. 

Alex Weintz, her communications director, told CapitolBeatOK that each new NGA chairman develops her or his distinct initiative, and “we may use that speech as a platform.” However, Weintz said he was not certain what direction the speech will take.

In a January talk at the Press Club, in her role as NGA vice-chairman, Fallin pressed for “flexible federalism,” calling on the U.S. government to treat states more as partners than as administrative sub-sets of the central government in Washington. 

An ardent critic of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Fallin voted against it during her last term in Congress, and has assailed its strictures since becoming governor of Oklahoma in January 2011. 

Frequently disagreeing with President Barack Obama, recently she has worked with him in wake of the May tornadoes in central Oklahoma, accompanying him on a tour of the devastation in Moore and coordinating disaster declarations.  

She was part a five-person delegation from NGA at a White House briefing in December. She advocated for state authority and freedom to develop policy alternatives. Her colleagues in the session were Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (current NGA chairman), Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. 

After the presidential meeting, in a teleconference with reporters, including CapitolBeatOK, Fallin said she told Obama federal reforms should “produce savings for both the federal government and states” – and that shared responsibility for running certain programs should also mean “shared savings.”

As one example of her analysis, Fallin pointed to “the duals” – beneficiaries eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare benefits. She said the federal Health and Human Services (HHS) agency is “struggling to approve demonstration projects,” and asserted “more authority is necessary” for the states to craft alternatives.   

Second, Fallin said deficit reduction should not be achieved through cost shifts to states, or imposition of additional “unfunded mandates.” Even as sequestration neared, Fallin argued federal deficit reduction “cannot be solved by the states” – and that state-federal relations should address funding cuts and mandates flowing from either federal legislation or judicial mandates. She said, as one example, that when special education funds are trimmed, underlying federal requirements should also be revised. 

Third, Fallin pressed for meaningful federalism in program administration. State authorities must be permitted to “manage programs and find savings.” She pressed for Medicaid waivers, saying the system is now untimely (taking too long for decisions to be reached) and lacks transparency.

In the December discussion with reporters, Fallin pointed to the “1115 waivers,” the technical shorthand for STC (special terms and conditions) allowances under Medicaid, including Oklahoma’s Insure Oklahoma (scheduled to sunset early next year). When she met with Obama in December, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority was seeking to preserve the state’s premium-assistance program for the working poor.

Last month, the Obama administration denied that waiver; Fallin asked Obama to reconsider the issue two weeks ago

As her fourth prepared point for the Obama discussion, Gov. Fallin said that federal funding decisions should not include imposition of “Maintenance of Effort” strictures that increase state tax spending and burdens

Fallin’s press club luncheon session on September 17 (a Tuesday) will begin at 12:30 p.m.

Her remarks will commence at 1 p.m., with a question/answer session ending at 2 p.m. 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.