Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee launched his presidential campaign last week. Huckabee highlighted his fiscal successes as governor during his announcement. He claims that he cut taxes 94 times while governor, and he promised to bring his tax-cutting experience to Washington, D.C. Huckabee’s statements do not tell the full story. While Huckabee cut some taxes, his time in office also included a rapid increase in Arkansas state spending and multiple tax hikes.
Huckabee took office in July 1996 after Governor Jim Guy Tucker was convicted for his involvement in the Whitewater scandal. Shortly after taking office, Huckabee signed a $70 million package of income tax cuts. It eliminated the marriage penalty, increased the standard deduction, and indexed tax brackets to inflation. The broad-based tax cut was Arkansas’s first in 20 years. Huckabee followed it with a large cut to the state’s capital gains tax. These tax cuts were popular, and they improved Arkansas’s economic climate.
Huckabee’s fiscal policies then changed direction. Huckabee used the state’s tobacco settlement money to expand Medicaid, and he supported a large bond initiative to increase spending for infrastructure. These and other spending policies came with a hefty price tag.
When Huckabee was in office during fiscal year 1997, Arkansas general fund spending was $2.6 billion, according to data from the National Association of State Budget Officers. By 2007, Huckabee’s last year in office, general fund spending had grown by 54 percent to $4 billion. Total state spending--which includes spending from federal aid and other non-general sources--grew even faster. Over the same period, it rose from $8.3 billion to $16.1 billion, an increase of 94 percent.
Huckabee relied upon multiple tax increases to fund this rapid spending growth. According to data from the state of Arkansas, examined by the Washington Post, net taxes increased by $505 million during Huckabee’s tenure. Huckabee supported increases in the state gasoline, cigarette, and sales taxes. He instituted a three percent personal income surtax.
Huckabee’s scores on Cato’s Fiscal Policy Report Card show his growing embrace of big government. Cato’s report card includes various measures of tax and spending restraint, and assigns governors grades on an A through F scale. Below are Huckabee’s scores:
In 2006 Huckabee tied for the worst-rated Republican governor. The authors of the report summarized Huckabee’s fiscal record: “Like many Republicans, his grades dropped the longer he stayed in office…Huckabee’s leadership has left taxpayers in Arkansas much worse off.”
If elected president, Huckabee promises not to increase taxes and to control federal spending. However, given his proclivity for raising taxes and spending while governor, his promises ring hollow.
Note: This post is part of a series on the fiscal records of governors running for president. Previous editions covered include Martin O’Malley and Jeb Bush.