PHILADELPHIA -- Former President Bill Clinton says states need to become more responsible budgeters.

Even though most states are required to balance their budgets, in practice they don't do it, and "years of irresponsible budgeting" have led to the current crisis, Clinton said Tuesday at a symposium in Philadelphia designed to bring attention to the eroding financial condition of state governments.

"We shouldn't let this crisis pass without using it as an opportunity to reform budget systems up and down the line," Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, said at the National Constitution Center. "And they essentially need to be more conservative and responsible."

He also expressed support for immigration legislation making its way through the Senate as well as an Internet sales tax, saying both would broaden the tax base. And he said states and cities should work to attract private investment to infrastructure projects.

Turning to Washington, Clinton lamented reductions in federal discretionary spending, especially the sequester, the term for automatic spending cuts that went into effect this year. "The sequester shows you the consequences of the meat ax," he said.

He got no argument from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who also addressed the State Budget Crisis Task Force symposium and said that federal cuts have seriously hurt city and local governments, hampering their ability to deliver essential services to citizens.

The sequester has transferred costs onto local governments, said Nutter, the immediate past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In Philadelphia, he said, deep cuts to a program that helps homeowners avert foreclosure will potentially result in more blight. The school district, meanwhile, is facing an existential budget crisis that has forced it to lay off 3,800 employees and eliminate sports, music, art and all after-school programs, although a potential infusion of state aid may soften the blow before school starts.

"This is not a sustainable model for cities. The federal government cannot balance its budget on the backs of cities and local governments," said Nutter, a second-term Democrat.

A top Treasury Department official said the federal government, after running trillion-dollar deficits as it tried to stabilize financial markets and stimulate the economy, has to begin getting its own fiscal house in order.

Having sent more than $280 billion to state and local governments between 2009 and 2012, largely to be spent on education, infrastructure and health care, "we need to begin pulling back the federal safety net," said Mary John Miller, Treasury's undersecretary for domestic finance, who was taking part in a panel discussion.

"As we see unemployment coming down, as we see the housing market beginning to recover, as we see the economy growing ... we see that we need to now turn our attention to reducing our federal deficits," said Miller, adding the administration of President Barack Obama is nevertheless "eager to work with state and local governments" to ease the impact of the sequester.

The nonpartisan task force, led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch, issued a report last year that said U.S. states are grappling with long-term budget problems that threaten their ability to pay for basic services such as law enforcement, local schools and transportation. The group cites rising Medicaid and pension costs, reduced federal aid and eroding tax revenues as a few of the challenges facing the states.

Panelists at Tuesday's symposium variously called for more flexibility in how states administer federally funded programs, a reduction in unfunded mandates, and an overhaul of the federal budget process.

"You will not solve this problem until you change the process," said John Sununu, a Republican former New Hampshire governor and chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush. "I don't care what you do to Medicare, Medicaid, you will not get effective changes until the legislators and the president can say, `The devil of budget rules made me do it. I had no choice.'"

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  • Their wedding day on October 11, 1975

  • Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas,right, and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton, chat with Mochtar Riady, chairman of the Hong Kong Chinese Bank at a reception hosted by Riady, Oct. 7, 1985. Clinton is in Hong Kong for a three-day trade promotion tour. (AP Photo/Dick Fung)

  • Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary arrive for dinner at the White House Sunday evening, Feb. 23, 1986. (AP photo/Ron Edmonds)

  • Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Clinton is joined by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton, left, on the day he announced his bid for the presidency in Little Rock, Arkansas on Nov. 3, 1991. Clinton denied on Friday reports of rumored extramarital affairs, saying the charges were “simply not true.” (AP Photo)

  • Then Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Clinton hugs his wife Hillary at Clinton's election night party at the Merrimack Inn, in Merrimack, N.H. in this Feb. 18, 1992 file photo. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm, File)

  • Hillary Clinton, right, embraces her husband, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, in Los Angeles Tuesday night after he secured enough delegates to capture the Democratic presidential nomination. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

  • Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary dance on stage during a "Get-Out-The-Vote" rally at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. Sunday night, Nov. 1, 1992. (AP Photo/Susan Ragan)

  • Democratic presidential nominee Gov. Bill Clinton gives his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, a kiss as she joined him at the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center in Los Angeles, Calif., Sept. 16, 1992. She had just taped "The Home Show." (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

  • Arkansas Gov. and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign outside the Tampa Convention Center on Monday, March 9, 1992 on the eve of Super Tuesday. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

  • Framed by a huge American flag, Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton wave to supporters during a rally at a downtown Chicago hotel Tuesday, March 17, 1992. Clinton won both the Illinois and Michigan primaries. (AP Photo/Charles Bennett)

  • Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Bill Clinton, of Arkansas, walks with his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton after the couple voted at Dunbar Community Center in Little Rock, Ark., on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 1992. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

  • U.S. president-elect Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, hug each other during an appearance at the Old State House in Little Rock, Ark., following the presidential election victory, Tuesday night, Nov. 3, 1992. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

  • President-elect Clinton and his wife Hillary ride on the beach at Hilton Head Island, S.C. on Friday. They are on the island for vacation and Renaissance Weekend. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) January 1993

  • President and Mrs. Clinton stand with South African President Nelson Mandela and his daughter, Zinzi Mandela Hlongwane, Tuesday night, Oct., 4, 1994 at the North Portico of the White House. The Clintons hosted a state dinner for Mandela. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)

  • President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton leave the Marine One helicopter for Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Oct. 25, 1994. The president left for the Middle East to celebrate peace in the shadow of violence and pledged to use his high profile mission to salute the new Israeli-Jordanian pact. (AP Photo/Shayna Brennan)

  • President Clinton laughs at the sight of a staff member (not shown) wearing a Santa hat as he, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter Chelsea leave Foundary Methodist Church in Washington after attending services Sunday morning, Dec. 25, 1994. At rear is an unidentified Secret Service agent. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton arrive at a dinner at the White House, Sunday night, Jan. 29, 1995. The former Arkansas governor was hosting the state executives Sunday night at an annual black-tie dinner for the National Governors' Association, a group he once headed. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)

  • President and Mrs. Clinton laugh during the introductions of a concert Wednesday night, May 17, 1995 on the South Lawn at the White House. The concert was being taped for a PBS television series "In Performance at the White House" and will be aired this fall. The hour-long performance, featuring the women of country music, was hosted by Chet Atkins. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)