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Budgets top agenda as U.S. governors meet

WASHINGTON - Confronting crushing budget woes, many of the nation's governors are calling for painful spending cuts. But beyond that, their approaches are diverging drastically, from union-cramping proposals in Wisconsin and other states to higher taxes in Illinois and elsewhere.

Most states' chief executives are struggling to plug massive budget holes without pushing unemployment higher and hampering a fragile post-recession recovery, and that's setting a worrisome atmosphere as they gather in Washington for their winter meeting.

The financial emergencies - and what to do about them - will be issue No. 1 over the next three days. Issue No. 2 is certain to be one prescription that's been in the headlines: Republican Gov. Scott Walker's effort in Wisconsin to strip bargaining rights from many state employees. It's prompted weeks of protests and outcry.

"We have to balance our budgets. We have to address costs. And we also have to move forward at the same time," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the head of the Democratic Governors' Association.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, cast blame on Washington, saying: "The fact is that Washington, D.C., is trying to tell all of us how to run our states with way too much specificity, and the costs of that is what's driving the deficits in our country."

A day before the gathering began, the Commerce Department reported that state and local responses to growing budget crises were undercutting the national recovery, weighing down economic growth in the final three months of last year.

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