Policy Analysis No. 391

Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors: 2000

By Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski
February 12, 2001

Executive Summary

This report presents the findings of the Cato Institute’s fifth biennial fiscal policy report card on the nation’s governors. The grading mechanism is based on purely objective measures of each governor’s fiscal performance. Those governors with the most fiscally conservative records—the tax and budget cutters—receive the highest grades. Those who have increased spending and taxes the most receive the lowest grades.

Two governors receive an A on our 2000 report card: Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts and Kenny Guinn of Nevada. Three governors receive an F: Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Gray Davis of California, and John Kitzhaber of Oregon.

The recent governors of America’s most populous states and their grades are George W. Bush of Texas, B; George Pataki of New York, B; Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, B; George Ryan of Illinois, D; Bob Taft of Ohio, D; John Engler of Michigan, B; Jeb Bush of Florida, B; and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, C.

Overall, we are concerned that the trend during the past several years of prosperity for states has been to ratchet up state budgets instead of returning revenue surpluses to taxpayers. By our estimates, roughly two of every three surplus dollars in the state coffers since 1996 have gone to new spending, not to tax reduction. Ironically, Republican governors were more aggressive in cutting taxes in the early 1990s, when the states were in fiscal shortfall, than they are today with the largest budget reserves in nearly two decades. The Republican governors tend to be touted as the GOP’s policy stars, but our report card suggests that, although there are a number of tax-cutting fiscal conservatives among the group, far too many of those top state executives have become big-government Republicans.

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Stephen Moore is a senior fellow and Stephen Slivinski is a fiscal policy analyst at the Cato Institute.