There are eight current or former governors running for the Republican nomination in 2016. In alphabetical order, we have Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker.
So who’s the best of that bunch? That’s a subjective judgement, of course, but one valuable piece of information is to see what grades they earned from the Cato Institute’s Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors. This superb publication provides a comprehensive analysis of the overall fiscal policy record of each state executive. The latest version is here, and that will give you the scores of current governors, as well as the score of Rick Perry (who just left office).
For former governors, you can dig through the Cato website to find earlier versions of the Report Card. Or if you want to be lazy and don’t care about the nuances, this post by my colleague Nicole Kaeding is a nice summary.
For today, though, let’s focus solely on their spending records.
Here’s some of what Nicole wrote in a separate article on the fiscal record of the governors.
A governor who promises to cut federal spending is more believable if he held spending in check when he was governor. …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. …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.
And here’s her chart.
But Nicole then explains that you don’t get a full picture when you simply look at spending increases.
…this comparison is somewhat biased because population grows at different rates in the states. …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. …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.
And here’s her second graph.
The bottom line is that Bush and Kasich don’t look very good, whereas Bobby Jindal is easily the most frugal.
But don’t make a decision just on this basis. We have some more data to investigate.
John Stossel and Maxim Lott analyze the same group of governors (other than Pataki) in a column for Fox News.
Every Republican presidential candidate has promised to keep government spending in check — but which ones actually have a track record of doing that? …The “Stossel” show crunched the numbers on that — adjusting them for inflation and population growth. …Bush cut spending the most. Though he’s criticized by conservatives as “too moderate,” the former Florida governor cut spending by an average of 1.39 percent each year he was in office.
On this basis, Bush goes from last place to first place!
Stossel and Lott then re-slice the numbers based on how frugal governors were compared to their counterparts in other states.
But the above chart isn’t perfect for comparing candidates, because governors serve terms in very different time periods. Some served during recessions, when most states must cut spending. We adjusted for that by doing another comparison — how much each governor spent compared with other governors in office at that same time… Bush was indeed the biggest budget cutter. During his tenure, Florida’s spending shrunk by 3.6 percentage points more than the average. He cut spending by 1.39 percent per year in his state, while other states increased theirs by 2.3 percent during that same period. Kasich was also conservative by this measure, cutting spending 1.76 percentage points more than other states did. But both charts show spending grew by the most under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee.
This next chart show Bush and Kasich doing better than their political rivals.
So how can Bush and Kasich do better in one set of calculations but do the worst in another set of calculations?!?
Does adjusting for inflation really make that much difference? Or perhaps they used different measures of spending, with one including outlays financed by federal transfers?
Nicole walks through some of these methodological challenges in a post reviewing Kasich’s record (i.e., how much should he be blamed for expanding Medicaid/Obamacare in Ohio when all the initial cost is shifted to federal taxpayers?).
For what it’s worth, Jindal probably comes in first place if you average all the above numbers. And he also has tried to abolish Louisiana’s income tax, so that’s another point in his favor.