Keeping Their Promises


In blogs over the last several months, I have revisited the fiscal records of the eight Republican presidential candidates who have gubernatorial experience. As the 2016 race heats up, the candidates will begin making many promises on tax and spending issues, but will we be able to believe them?

The records show that some governors worked hard to limit the size and scope of government. Others grew government with more spending and higher taxes. The candidates fit into three categories: the “A’s,” the falling grades, and the consistent “B’s”.

Three of the former governors earned at least one “A” during their tenure: George Pataki of New York, Jeb Bush of Florida, and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Pataki earned high marks for slashing state spending by $2 billion and cutting the personal income tax. Bush passed a billion dollar property tax cut coupled with a large business tax cut. Jindal dramatically cut spending. Spending is down 9 percent in Louisiana since fiscal year 2009.

Pataki’s and Bush’s grades didn’t stay in the upper tier. Pataki fell to a depressing “D” by the end of his tenure because of his support for large spending and tax increases. Spending grew at twice the rate of population growth and inflation during his tenure. He backed several tax hikes and NY issued billions in new debt. Florida’s budget exploded during Bush’s second term, lowering his final grade to a “C.”

Other governors had precipitous falls too. John Kasich of Ohio received a “B” in his first report card. In 2014 his grade fell to a “D,” and that tied him as the worst Republican governor on fiscal policy in the country. Kasich supported huge spending hikes. Spending increased 18 percent from 2012 to 2015, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, and he expanded Medicaid over objections from the legislature. He requested another 11 percent increase for fiscal year 2016. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas fell from a “B” to an “F” as he embraced a number of net, new tax increases totaling $500 million. He also doubled total state spending.

The final group of governors includes governors who received consistent, strong grades over their tenures. These governors didn’t set the curve, but did demonstrate a record of tax-and-spending restraint. Rick Perry of Texas earned a “B” on five of his six report cards, with a “C” for the sixth grade. Spending did grow while Perry was governor, but at least its growth was limited to population growth and inflation. Scott Walker of Wisconsin passed a  large tax cut and large-scale union reforms, but spending grew a bit quicker than the national average. Chris Christie of New Jersey continues to propose tax cuts and fiscal reforms, but his progress has been stymied by the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Candidates will offer bold promises of action if they are elected. Many will pledge to cut taxes and federal spending.  The records of past governors provide some evidence to determine whether a candidate’s promises should be trusted or if the promises are just bluster to garner support.

Note: This piece discusses the eight former or current Republican governors running for the presidency. Two former Democrat governors are also running. Below is a summary of all ten candidates’ fiscal records while governor:

Nicole Kaeding is a budget analyst for the Cato Institute and focuses on federal and state spending policy. Nicole’s articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Hill, National Review Online, and other publications. Previously, she was the state policy manager for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, where she oversaw the organization’s activities in 34 states. Before that, Nicole was a manager and bank officer at Fifth Third Bancorp for six years and a financial adviser at American Express.

Kaeding graduated from Miami University with bachelor’s degrees in finance and political science, and holds a master’s degree in economics from DePaul University.

Used with permission. Cato Institute / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0