With little mystery about the prospects of continued Republican control of the House of Representatives, attention is focused on the Senate, where there is a lot of uncertainty. This focus gives short shrift to the important races for the statehouses, where Democrats are looking for bright spots but where the Republicans may produce several surprises.
Based on polling averages compiled by Real Clear Politics, Republicans are running neck-and-neck with Democrats in Massachusetts and Colorado. If they win, and barring further surprises, Republicans would control 31 of the 50 governorships.
Having the right governor in charge makes the world of difference, encouraging legislators to hold the line on spending and taxes. The test of a governor’s resolve is his or her discipline when revenues rise. A survey by the Cato Institute demonstrates that some governors look for opportunities to cut spending and taxes and give the money back to the people who earned it. Other governors, awash in new cash, can’t resist a spending spree.
Top marks in the Cato survey were awarded to governors in North Carolina, Kansas, Maine and Indiana — all Republicans — for resisting the temptation to splurge. Some eagerly yielded. Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a liberal in a liberal state, yielded to spendthrift instincts and spending has spiraled upward by an average increase of 6.8 percent each year. This has required $6 billion in tax increases. Cato calls Gov. Moonbeam the nation’s worst governor. Mr. Brown increased state pension and retirement benefits and expanded California’s Medicaid system under Obamacare. Taxpayers will pay for it in pain in the years ahead.
Based on statistics provided by the National Association of State Budget Officers, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Tax Foundation, Pat McCrory of North Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas, Republicans both, won scores of 78, compared to Mr. Brown’s 19, John Hickenlooper’s 26 in Colorado and Deval Patrick’s 29 in Massachusetts. They’re all Democrats.
Paul LePage in Maine and Mike Pence in Indiana, both Republicans, joined Messrs. McCrory and Brownback with a straight A on their Cato report cards, thanks to their tax cuts and spending reductions. There were no other straight-A governors.
Mr. Brownback earned praise for lowering the tax burden on Kansans by $800 million a year, but good tax policy without cuts isn’t enough. John Kasich in Ohio, a Republican, does good work on taxes, but Cato awards him a D for his 13.6 percent increase in spending. That’s more than four times the national average increase of 3.1 percent.
Party affiliation matters. Of the 13 best-scoring governors, 12 are Republicans. The only Democrat to earn a B is Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia. The 12 governors judged “worst” are Democrats.
Some governors, perhaps taking a cue from Washington, try to spend their way to prosperity. Others, like Maine’s Mr. LePage, understand there’s a better way. “Big, expensive welfare programs riddled with fraud and abuse threaten our future,” he says. “Too many Mainers are dependent on government handouts. Government dependency has not — and never will — create prosperity.” Voters should remember these words of wisdom born of experience when they vote next month. Care and even frugality with the people’s money are not sins.