New Mexico Governor Richardson Says States Shouldn't Owe Feds for Rebuilding

Louisiana and Mississippi should not be required to match federal dollars for a host of projects as they rebuild in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Democratic presidential candidate and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told a gathering of black mayors Thursday.

Richardson, the first of several Democratic contenders scheduled to speak here in a city that sheltered tens of thousands of storm evacuees from New Orleans, said that the federal government should waive a requirement that the states pay 10 percent in matching funding for infrastructure repairs and other storm-related expenses.

"These communities are in no position to make that happen. As President Bush waived that assistance after 9-11 in New York, the federal government should waive it for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast," he said.

Richardson, delivering the keynote address at the National Conference of Black Mayors' annual convention, also expressed support for making the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency a Cabinet-level position, as it was during the Clinton administration.

"I know there has been a recent change that elevates it, but I still believe for future disasters in this country, we should make FEMA Cabinet level," he said.

Richardson also called for giving disaster loans, especially to small businesses, and for Congress to approve "special assistance" to offset tax losses in disaster-hit communities.

The keynote address was attended by hundreds of people, including New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Two other Democratic presidential candidates also are slated to visit the conference, which runs through Saturday at the Baton Rouge River Center.

Sen. John Edwards will address a forum on affordable housing Friday and Sen. Barack Obama will speak at a panel discussion Saturday, convention organizers said.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was invited to speak Wednesday, but organizers said she postponed the visit due to a scheduling conflict. A conference official said Clinton may attend later this week.

"I would like to hear from them that they'll have a continuing commitment to our ultimate recovery," said Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. "We got some initial funding, but we're learning very quickly that we don't have enough money to cover the extensive needs that we're dealing with in Louisiana."