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Governors urge action to avoid tumbling off 'fiscal cliff' (+video)

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RECOMMENDED: 'Fiscal cliff' 101: 5 basic questions answered 

Governor Markell added that a longer-term fix is preferable to one that lasts just a few months. State governments, like businesses, need certainty so they can plan. And unlike the federal government, they cannot print more money if they run a deficit.

The states stand to lose about 18 percent of federal grant money if across-the-board spending cuts known as the “sequester” go into effect, according to the Pew Center on the States. All told, one-third of total state revenues come in the form of federal grants.

But amid Washington’s ultrapartisan atmosphere, the governors presented a unified front, opting not to take sides.

“Our focus today was not to endorse a specific plan, nor to dismiss a specific plan, but rather to point out ... as governors, we think it’s important that we have a seat at the table,” said Gov. Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin. Governor Walker, a rising GOP star who survived a recall election last year over his moves against public-sector unions, declined to discuss any presidential ambitions for 2016.

Another Republican governor, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, said the group asked for “flexibility” in how federal money and spending cuts are passed down to the states, so that political leaders can “do what’s in the best interest of our states.”

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