Cream of the Crop of GOP Governors

I found an excellent website to obtain statistics for government spending. The bar graph on the federal deficit is a major blow against Obama getting reelected. Those last three years of deficits are at unsustainable, uncharted economic waters that a majority of Americans can not support.

The Republican governors who served for eight years of issuing executive orders, vetoing bad bills, selecting competent directors to run the agencies, proposing FY budgets for the government that rein in spending, and proposing laws to created an environment for economic growth deserve to be shown some respect. Two of the five with the best records are candidates for President. If the other three decide to run that will be even better. The data is comparable to the clock in olympic speed skating. You can not dispute that part of the record any more than you can dispute who received the best time in the speed skating event. Now I admit there is also, just like in olympic figure skating, some judging of a person running for president that is subjective instead of absolute. My list of the cream of the crop is based solely on measurable statistics instead of subjective judgement.

The table is showing the state spending, state debt, Gross State Product, and real state growth. I only included states where the state debt is lower than the state spending and the real state growth is equal or exceeds the national average of 2.6%

State State & Local Spending State & Local Debt Gross State Product Real State Growth
Minnesota $47.8 $41.2 $275.2 2.6%
Alabama $39.5 $26.3 $179.9 2.7%
New Mexico $18.9 $12.6 $77.1 2.7%
South Dakota $6.6 $5.8 $41.6 4.5%
North Dakota $6.5 $4.0 $34.8 5.2%

Each graph represents the total spending of each state as a percent of GDP. Keeping that percent near 15% is necessary to sustain balance, and I only included states that met this bar.

Tim Pawlenty 2003-2011 Minnesota

Pawlenty campaigned on a pledge not to raise taxes to balance the state’s budget deficit, requiring visa expiration dates on driver’s licenses, a 24-hour waiting period on abortions, implementing a conceal-carry gun law, and changing the state’s education requirements. Pawlenty prevailed over both challengers at the polls. His largest gains since a poll conducted that September were among voters in the suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Pawlenty ran for re-election in 2006. He was re-elected by 1 percentage point with 47% of the vote. He ran on conservative issues, though he was criticized by conservatives on funding issues including two stadium bills for the Gophers and Minnesota Twins, and transportation bonding which included the Northstar commuter rail line. In my opinion Tim Pawlenty does have the best budget record among former governors to run on.

Bob Riley 2003-2011 Alabama

In November 2005, Riley was linked to the Jack Abramoff scandal when his former Congressional press secretary, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the matter. It further emerged that, as a Congressman, Riley signed a letter on behalf of the U.S. Family Network, opposing expansion of casino gambling in Alabama. The U.S. Family Network was revealed to be an Abramoff front, funded by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which operated competing casinos.

Gary Johnson 1995-2003 New Mexico
As governor, Johnson followed a strict small government approach. He vetoed 200 of 424 bills in his first six months in office – a national record of 48% of all legislation – and used the line-item veto on most remaining bills. In office, Johnson fulfilled his campaign promise to reduce the 10% annual growth of the state budget. In his first budget, Johnson proposed a wide range of tax cuts, including a repeal of the prescription drug tax, a $47 million income tax cut, and a 6 cents per gallon gasoline tax cut. However, of these, only the gasoline tax cut was passed. In 1998, Johnson ran for re-election as governor against Democratic Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez. In his campaign, he promised to continue the policies of his first term: improving schools; cutting state spending, taxes, and bureaucracy; and frequent use of his veto power. Fielding a strong Hispanic candidate in a 40% Hispanic state, the Democrats were expected to oust Johnson, but Johnson won by a 55% to 45% margin: making him the first Governor of New Mexico to serve two four-year terms after term limits were expanded to two terms in 1991.

Mike Rounds 2003-2011 South Dakota
Rounds’s victory in the 2002 Republican Gubernatorial Primary was one of South Dakota’s greatest political upsets. Rounds insisted on running a positive campaign and was not attacked by his opponents. Rounds’s positive image and extensive knowledge of state government won him many supporters who were alienated by the front-runners. In its April 2010 report, ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Rounds one of 11 “worst governors” in the United States because of various ethics issues throughout Rounds’ term as governor. Some of Rounds’ alleged ethics lapses cited by the watchdog include:
Resisted efforts to promote government transparency and frustrated public access to information
Used his office for personal benefit
Abused state authority for the benefit of friends and family

John Hoeven 2000-2010 North Dakota
Hoeven’s governorship included the expansion and diversification of the state’s economy, which led to a 75.8 percent growth of the state’s gross domestic product. Beginning in 2000, he directed the development of a multi-resource energy program for the state with incentives in each energy sector, leading the state in becoming one of the largest energy producing and exporting states in the country. North Dakota has gained nearly 40,000 new jobs since he took office. The state’s wages and personal incomes continue to grow faster than the national average. In the past few years, the state led the nation in export growth. In late 2006, the state’s reserve rose past $600 million, and now is over $700 million. As of December 2009, Hoeven was the most popular governor in the nation. His approval rating stood at 87 percent with only 10 percent disapproving.

The Cato Institute report card on these five Governors has them in the same order that I placed them.

Tim Pawlenty, Republican Legislature: Democratic
Took Office: January 2003
Grade: A
In his first few years in office, Governor Pawlenty backed tax increases on corporations and cigarette consumers. However, the governor has changed course in recent years, consistently supporting tax cuts and opposing tax increases. In 2008, he vetoed a large gasoline tax increase. In 2009, he twice vetoed giant tax packages passed by the legislature, which included increases in the top personal income tax rate and increased taxes on gasoline, beer, wine, and liquor. In 2010, he again vetoed an income tax rate increase. Pawlenty has also proposed substantial business tax cuts to make the state more competitive, and he wants the corporate tax rate reduced from 9.9 percent to 4.8 percent. Under Pawlenty, state general fund spending rose 22 percent between FY03 and FY08, which was less than the average state increase. The governor’s proposed spending for FY11 is down 10 percent from the FY08 peak. Pawlenty has proposed a constitutional amendment to limit annual growth in the state’s general fund spending over the long term.

Bob Riley, Republican Legislature: Democratic
Took Office: January 2003
Grade: B
In his first few years in office, Governor Riley pursued income, sales, and cigarette tax increases. He also presided over a very large increase in general fund spending between FY03 and FY08. The governor has demonstrated much more fiscal restraint in recent years. In 2007, he proposed modest income tax cuts; during the current economic slowdown, he has avoided tax increases and worked with the legislature to cut the budget substantially.

New Mexico
Gary E. Johnson, Republican Legislature: Democratic
Took Office: 1/95
Grade: B
A true citizen-lawmaker who calls himself a libertarian, Johnson never sought nor held an elective office before winning the statehouse in 1994. He started his own construction business while still in college and built it into one of the largest construction companies in the state. In a big-government state like New Mexico, where the state tax burden has long been among the most oppressive in the nation, Johnson’s staunch fiscal conservatism has been much needed, but also much resisted. In his first year in office, he proposed $85 million in tax cuts, including a $47 million personal income tax cut–reducing the top rate from 8.5 percent to 8 percent–and a 6-cent gas tax cut. The Democrat dominated legislature approved only a 3-cent gas tax cut worth about $15 million. In 1997 Johnson proposed a modest $15 million personal income tax cut that the legislature rejected; instead, it sent him a $45 million 5-cent per gallon phased-in gasoline tax hike that Johnson vetoed. This year Johnson again proposed a modest income tax cut of about $20 million, reducing the top rate from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent. Surprisingly, the legislature sent him an even larger tax cut package of $60 million, including a reduction of the top rate to 8.2 percent and elimination of the sales tax on prescription drugs, partially offset by a 12-cent cigarette tax hike. Johnson vetoed the cigarette tax hike and enthusiastically signed the income tax cut into law. On the spending side, general fund expenditures went up by 10 percent per year over the six years preceding the Johnson administration. In Johnson’s first year, spending rose by about 6 percent, and since then spending growth has averaged less than 4 percent per year. He has also reduced the number of state employees by nearly 10 percent, and he has set a state record for legislative vetoes. While New Mexico is still a high-tax state, Johnson has made great strides in reducing taxes and slowing spending growth, much to the displeasure of the entrenched tax-and-spend culture in Albuquerque.

South Dakota
Mike Rounds, Republican Legislature: Republican
Took Office: January 2003
Grade: C

South Dakota is blessed with one of the lowest state tax burdens in the country, and it does not have an income tax. Governor Rounds has supported a few tax increases, but he has generally kept a hands-off approach to the state’s competitive tax system. The governor has supported cigarette tax increases over the years, and in 2009 he proposed increases to various fees and a delay in a scheduled property tax cut. Rounds has been a fairly frugal governor on the spending side, but his score was hurt somewhat in this report card because the South Dakota budget has been flat in recent years, while the budget in many other states has fallen.

North Dakota
John Hoeven, Republican Legislature: Republican
Took Office: December 2000
Grade: C

Over the years, Governor Hoeven has provided modest reductions in corporate taxes, property taxes, and personal income taxes in the form of marriage penalty relief. In 2009, he signed into law a small cut to personal and corporate income tax rates. The top personal income tax rate was cut from 5.54 percent to 4.86 percent, and the corporate rate was cut from 6.5 percent to 6.4 percent. However, the governor has also supported tax increases on cigarette and gasoline consumers. Hoeven’s main fiscal downfall is that he increased spending dramatically during the past decade as the state experienced large revenue inflows. General fund spending in FY11 is expected to be almost twice as high as in FY03.

I understand some may have had other GOP Governors in their list of the cream of the crop. I only included these five because they were the only ones to meet the bar I set of serving at least 8 years, having less debt than spending, keeping the spending at about 15% of GDP, and realizing real state growth at or above 2.6%.

Cross-posted at Unified Patriots