Taxpayer Group Recognizes Top-Ranked Governors

Published November 1, 2003

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a Washington, DC-based taxpayer advocacy group, awarded 17 governors with high ranks this year, and seven of those were given special “Gold Star” recognition. The Gold Star governors were recognized for their work on behalf of state taxpayers and their leadership by example for the nation.

“This award is a way for ATR to thank some governors and show the others that they, too, can earn an award–and here’s how to do it,” commented Grover Norquist, president of ATR.

ATR’s 2003 Gold Star governors are Bill Owens (R-Colorado), Jeb Bush (R-Florida), Linda Lingle (R-Hawaii), Tim Pawlenty (R-Minnesota), Craig Benson (R-New Hampshire), Don Carcieri (R-Rhode Island), Phil Bredeson (D-Tennessee), and Rick Perry (R-Texas).

The additional 10 top-ranked governors are the recently deceased Frank O’Bannon (D-Indiana), Mike Foster (R-Louisiana), John Baldacci (D-Maine), Mitt Romney (R-Massachusetts), Jennifer Granholm (D-Michigan), Ronnie Musgrove (D-Mississippi), Brad Henry (D-Oklahoma), James Douglas (R-Vermont), and Dave Freudenthal (D-Wyoming).

Gold Stars and Number Ones

ATR ranked governors on a scale of 1 (best) to 3 (worst). Those who have worked to pass budgets without tax increases earned a rank of 1. Signing a budget that included tax increases earned a governor a rank of 2, and actively working to pass and sign tax increases earned a rank of 3.

The top-ranked governors were also considered for Gold Star status, which recognizes their additional, proactive efforts to implement policies that benefit taxpayers, such as cutting taxes and spending. The Gold Star governors will receive lapel pins–“a little something to wear to the NGA [National Governors’ Association] Annual Meeting,” commented Norquist.

Among Gold Star governors, all except Bredesen are Republicans. “Republicans are better at cutting taxes and spending,” said Norquist. “Sometimes Democrats will help us by opposing increases, but it’s the rare Democrat who will actively work to cut taxes and spending.”

Among the 10 governors who earned a rank of 1 but did not receive Gold Star recognition, seven are Democrats.

Pledge Signers Come Through

ATR paid careful attention to the actions of governors and state legislators during the 2003 legislative season, beginning in January. After the 2002 elections, many lawmakers were new to state capitols, and many had signed ATR’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising to “oppose and vote against any and all tax increases.”

Several governors-elect signed the Pledge, while others made verbal promises to the taxpayers in their states to oppose tax increases. Pledge-signer Bill Owens of Colorado fulfilled his promise by instituting a voucher program for grade school children and bringing greater efficiency to state-managed agencies, including the Colorado Medicaid program. Florida governor Jeb Bush fought for–and achieved–medical malpractice reform through four special sessions. Both Owens and Bush worked hard throughout the year to implement policies that benefit taxpayers, free enterprise, and economic prosperity–policies that qualified them for ATR’s Gold Star award.

Perry Stars in Texas

Another governor to earn a Gold Star, Rick Perry of Texas, worked with his state’s legislature to close a $10 billion two-year budget shortfall without increasing taxes. Using tax increases to solve Texas’s budget shortfall would have meant a tax increase of $1,000 per year for an average family of four.

Instead, Perry worked to pass and eventually signed a budget that cuts spending for the first time in Texas since World War II. Despite contentious debate about redistricting–over which the entire Democratic contingent of the legislature departed for Oklahoma on May 12 in protest–Perry succeeded in fulfilling his promise to taxpayers.

Perry vetoed $81.1 million in spending and signed a budget that reduces overall spending from $60.7 billion in the previous year to $58.1 billion this fiscal year.

Throughout the budget negotiation process this spring, Perry also worked to reform medical malpractice tort law, joining Jeb Bush and other lawmakers across the nation in an effort to make medical services more affordable by reducing the expense of malpractice insurance for physicians. The more affordable medical services become, the less taxpayers will have to pay for government health care programs, which typically consume the lion’s share of state resources and spending increases.

“The pursuit of tort reform is unquestionably one of a taxpayer-friendly lawmaker’s top priorities,” remarked Norquist. “Successful implementation of tort reform, in addition to working to pass a taxpayer-friendly budget, would definitely earn a governor a Gold Star.”

Lingle, Carcieri, and Benson Use Veto Power

Other actions taken by Gold Star governors included using the veto power to cut spending, a power that Perry and other governors, including Linda Lingle of Hawaii, used successfully to rein in spending. By vetoing 50 spending bills this spring, Lingle set a new record in Hawaii for the most vetoes by a governor in a single session.

Among the measures Lingle vetoed was a long-term care tax that would have affected some of Hawaii’s most vulnerable taxpayers. Instead, she worked to pass a long-term care tax credit to help those taxpayers afford the cost of care. Lingle also supported a tax cut that would increase the standard deduction for Hawaiian taxpayers when they file their state tax returns.

Governor Don Carcieri of Rhode Island used his veto pen in July, but to no avail; his veto was overridden by the state legislature, and a 6.3 percent spending increase and nearly $40 million in tax increases, including a cigarette tax increase, were returned to this year’s budget. ATR awarded Carcieri with a Gold Star for working to cut spending and eliminate tax increases for his state’s budget, even though he was ultimately unsuccessful.

Governor Craig Benson of New Hampshire used his veto pen successfully on June 26, 2003 by vetoing the legislature’s $8.8 billion budget, which he said increased spending enough to make future tax increases likely. As a Taxpayer Protection Pledge signer, Benson said he felt duty-bound to veto the budget.

“We sent a shock wave through the system that said we are not going … to live beyond our means,” Benson commented to local press after his veto. “Taxpayers really did win today.”

Benson also promised to pass executive orders to reduce state spending during the interim session after his veto, to reduce even further the likelihood that legislators will try to increase taxes.

Rewarding Good Behavior

ATR’s gubernatorial ranking system and Gold Star recognition are intended to reward governors for taxpayer-friendly policies that reduce the burden of government and encourage free enterprise and economic growth. By rewarding good behavior, ATR hopes to encourage other governors to behave in similar ways.

“We sincerely encourage every governor to earn a Gold Star from ATR next year,” said Norquist. “We’re more than happy to give them out to the governors who’ve earned them.”

Emily Sedgwick is staff writer for Americans for Tax Reform. Her email address is [email protected].