Peter Shumlin get low marks among Governors for economic performance

by Robert Maynard

The Cato Institute just released its “Fiscal Policy Report Card Among America’s Governors 2012.”  It should come as no surprise to free market supporters that our Governor ranked near the bottom.  Here is how the Institute described its approach to the rankings:

The recovery from the recent recession has been very sluggish, and the nation’s governors have struggled with the resulting budget deficits, unemployment, and other economic problems in their states. Many reform-minded governors elected in 2010 have championed tax reforms and spending restraint to get their states back on track. Other governors have expanded government with old-fashioned tax-and-spend policies.

That is the backdrop to this year’s 11th biennial fiscal report card on the governors, which examines state budget actions since 2010. It uses statistical data to grade the governors on their taxing and spending records—governors who have cut taxes and spending the most receive the highest grades, while those who have increased taxes and spending the most receive the lowest grades.

As mentioned above, there were some “reform-minded” Governors elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010.  There were a few that particularly stood out: “Four governors were awarded an “A” in this report card—Sam Brownback of Kansas, Rick Scott of Florida, Paul LePage of Maine, and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.”  It is interesting to note the reaction on the part of some of Vermont’s media outlets when Randy Brock brought one of these four fiscal trail blazers to Vermont to share some of his ideas on economic reform.  Instead of being greeted as an innovative fiscal reformer, certain media outlets focused on some of Paul LePage’s rhetoric used in criticizing big government and excessive spending.  Heaven forbid that someone would  even consider  inviting a politician to Vermont who would do that.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were some Governors that seemed to have the pedal to the metal when it comes to taxing and spending: “Five governors were awarded an “F”—Pat Quinn of Illinois, Dan Malloy of Connecticut, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, and Chris Gregoire of Washington.”  I suppose that we should be grateful that our Governor was not one of those five.  The problem is that he was extremely close.  The highest ranking fiscal score for the five Governors, who received an “F”,  was 38.  Peter Shumlin received a 40 which gave him a “D” and placed him in the sixth position from the bottom.  In other words, he was just one slot and two points away from joining those who scored an “F”.  Here is what the report said about his record:

Governor Shumlin has taken a generally expansionist approach to fiscal policy. In 2011 he signed a 38 cent per pack tax increase on cigarette consumers after initially opposing it. He also approved a tax increase on health care providers. In 2012 he approved increases in automobile license and registration fees. His spending increases have been quite large. The general fund budget is expected to increase 12 percent between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2013.

Keep in mind that the above assessment does not take into account the plan to enact a Government controlled single payer health care system.  Once that is in place, an “F” might just be too generous a score.

The Cato Institute is a libertarian oriented think tank and has been critical of the tendency toward big government on the part of both Democrats and Republicans.  With that in mind, they have noted that the record shows that Democrats and Republicans are not equally guilty on that score:

Advocates of smaller government often lament that politicians of both major parties tax and spend too much. While that is certainly true, Cato report cards have found that Republican governors are a bit more fiscally conservative than Democratic governors,on average. In the 2008 report card, Republican and Democratic governors had average scores of 55 and 46, respectively. In the 2010 report card, they had average scores of 55 and 47, respectively.

This pattern is even more pronounced in the 2012 report card. This time around, Republican and Democratic governors had average scores of 57 and 43, respectively. And, as in prior report cards, the difference between the two parties is slightly more pronounced on taxes than on spending.

I think the increase in the difference between Democrats and Republicans, when it comes to taxing and spending, can partially be attributed to the rise of the Tea Party movement.  This is something to keep in mind when it comes time to vote in November.

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