The Republicans took the stage in their first presidential debate Thursday night. Of the 16 major candidates, eight have gubernatorial experience. I have written a number of times recently about the fiscal records of the candidates with gubernatorial experience. Their records are instructive. A governor who promises to cut federal spending is more believable if he held spending in check when he was governor.
As my blog post earlier in the week detailed, there are a number of ways to measure how and why state spending changes. Gubernatorial policies play a large role in influencing state general fund spending. Other factors, such as the state’s budget process, legislative policies, and federal mandates, can contribute to changes in spending, but as a state’s Chief Executive, governors have impact.
Using data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, I wanted to see just how much each governor increased spending on an annual basis. Analyzing the data on an annual basis allows us to control for the length of governor tenure. George Pataki was governor of New York for twelve years, while Scott Walker has been governor of Wisconsin for only four years. Comparing Pataki’s increase of 39 percent to Walker’s increase of 16 percent is unfair to Pataki.
The graph below shows the average annual increase in spending during each candidate’s time as governor. Jeb Bush has the highest spending with a 6.08 percent average annual increase. John Kasich is second. He increased spending by 4.95 percent. Rick Perry finishes third with an average annual increase of 4.01 percent. Bobby Jindal shows the most fiscal restraint. He cut spending by 1.76 percent a year on average.
But this comparison is somewhat biased because population grows at different rates in the states. As a state’s population grows, the demand for government services, such as schools and police protection, may increase by a related amount..
The graph below presents annual average spending growth on a per capita basis. The spending increases of Jeb Bush and Rick Perry now look much smaller. Jeb Bush’s increases are still above the average, but Rick Perry falls below it. Part of the reason that spending increased quickly under Bush and Perry is that their state populations were growing quickly. John Kasich’s increases, on the other hand, are an outlier. He increased spending faster on a per capita basis. This further confirms Kasich’s lack of fiscal restraint. Bobby Jindal actually cut spending on a per capita basis by an average of 2.41 percent a year.
During the debate, these presidential candidates tried to highlight their records as governor. Many factors impact state spending growth, but gubernatorial policies directly impact the amount a state spends. Comparing spending growth figures to peers allows us to determine which candidates are frugal and which are spendthrifts.