Policy Analysis No. 315

A Fiscal Report Card on America’s Governors: 1998

By Stephen Moore and Dean Stansel
September 3, 1998

Executive Summary

This report presents the findings of the Cato Institute’s fourth 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 1998 report card: William Janklow of South Dakota and John Rowland of Connecticut. Three governors receive the grade of F: John Kitzhaber of Oregon, Lawton Chiles of Florida, and Mel Carnahan of Missouri.

The governors of America’s most populous states and their grades are Pete Wilson of California, C; George W. Bush of Texas, B; George Pataki of New York, B; Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, B; Jim Edgar of Illinois, D; George Voinovich of Ohio, D; John Engler of Michigan, B; and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, B.

There has been a clear trend toward more spending at the state level during the past two years. This year many governors recommended budget increases of more than 7 percent, roughly three times the rate of inflation. Since 1996 state spending has grown roughly 50 percent faster than federal expenditures. Inflated budgets are now being promoted even by Republican governors who came into office in 1994 and 1995 promoting tax-cutting agendas. In our 1996 report we noted that the governors had moved states in a pronounced fiscally conservative direction. Now we are much less sanguine.

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Stephen Moore is director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute. Dean Stansel is a fiscal policy analyst at Cato.