NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 1, 2005

The 50 governors are meeting in Washington this week, which makes it an apt moment for the Cato Institute to release its biennial ranking of their fiscal performance, says the Wall Street Journal.

Researchers Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski find that the top-ranked governors have learned the dual lesson that you can't tax your way to recovery and that the best way out of a deficit is to cut spending.

  • By that measure, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the nation's best governor: Schwarzenegger has cut taxes, slashed spending, held a "garage sale" to get rid of excess state assets, and established a budget task force that has identified $32 billion in savings over five years.
  • The best Democratic governor is also a relative newcomer: Bill Richardson has cut New Mexico's top personal income tax rate to 5 percent from 8.2 percent, reduced the capital gains tax and kept spending in check.

What about the governors who have been around for a while? One of most interesting findings by Moore and Slivinski is that the longer the Republicans have been in office, the more inclined they are to succumb to a tax-and-spend mentality.

The rankings cover all of a governor's time in office:

  • George Pataki's B would drop to a C without his first term, when he slashed New York taxes; he has since increased spending so much that a huge tax increase passed over his veto.
  • If Bill Owens were judged just by his recent attempts to alter Colorado's tax limitation law, he would not be considered A material.
  • Florida's Jeb Bush, who earned an A two years ago, has slipped to a B after endorsing more bloated budgets.

Cato's F students include Republican Bob Taft of Ohio and Democrat Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania.

Source: Editorial, "Grading the Governors," Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2005; based upon: Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski, "Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors: 2004," Cato Institute, March 1, 2005.

For WSJ text (subscription required):,,SB110964266317966659,00.html


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