Nation’s Governors Graded on Fiscal Policy

Published October 20, 2014

Quantifiably ranking all the fiscal policies of the nation’s governors, the Cato Institute’s recently released “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors” highlights the variety of economic policies of the various states, grading the nation’s 29 Republican and 21 Democrat governors on their states’ tax and spending policies.

The annual study, conducted by Director of Tax Policy Studies Chris Edwards and Cato Institute budget analyst Nicole Kaeding, found although most state legislatures are having little trouble balancing their checkbooks in the short run, long-term problems such as unfunded public-sector pension liabilities and the current Medicaid expansion fad may soon place major stresses on state budgets.

Leading this year’s class of governors, Pat McCrory (R)of North Carolina (R), Kansas’s Sam Brownback (R), Paul LePage (R)of Maine, and Mike Pence (R) of Indiana all earned “A” grades. On the other end of the scale, receiving “F” grades, were Jerry Brown (D) of California, Mark Dayton (D) of Minnesota, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, John Kitzhaber (D) of Oregon, Jack Markell (D) of Delaware, Jay Inslee (D) of Washington, Deval Patrick (D) of Massachusetts, Pat Quinn of Illinois (D).

Bucking Trends

Good grades are not always predictable from party affiliation. Three Democrats—Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island—performed above average on fiscal reform, whereas Republican governors Rick Snyder of Michigan, John Kasich of Ohio, and Rick Scott of Florida received poor marks.

However, the authors note, “Republican governors are more fiscally conservative, on

average, than Democratic governors,” and their findings suggest Democratic and Republican governors disagree more “on revenue variables than spending variables.”

Among Republicans whose names have been mentioned as potential 2016 presidential candidates, Mike Pence of Indiana received the best mark, earning an “A.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, and New Jersey’s Chris Christie all received “B’s” on their respective cards.

Lonely at the Bottom

Ohio Gov. Kasich occupies a lonely position at the bottom of the potential GOP presidential candidate pack, with a “D.” Receiving a grade more commonly found among Democratic governors, the 2016 hopeful’s score was dragged down by his championing of a 13.6 percent increase in the state’s spending and a 3 percent increase in public-sector employment. Other fiscally irresponsible Kasich initiatives noted in the report include his efforts to hike several kinds of taxes on businesses and consumers.

By following the lead of the top-scoring governors, the report concludes, state policymakers can boost their respective economies by enacting policies proven to work elsewhere in the nation.

Paula Bolyard ([email protected]) writes from Doylestown, Ohio.

Internet Info:

“Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors, 2014,” Chris Edwards and Nicole Kaeding, Cato Institute: