Here's How to Judge the Governors Running for President

By David R. Henderson, Hoover Institution at Stanford University

You don’t have to study federal budget data closely to know that the only way to reduce the huge budget deficits over the next 10 years, while avoiding tax increases, is to cut the growth rate of spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that federal spending in 2023 will come in at a whopping 24.2 percent of GDP, up from an average of 21.0 percent between 1993 and 2022.

So a good way to judge various Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination, if they were governors, is to examine their record on state government spending.
Doing so leads to two interesting conclusions.

First, there are important differences among the Republicans who were or are governors.

Second, although the old saying is that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats, on spending there sometimes are billions of dollars of difference.

In fact, all the Republican governors or former governors performed better than the Democratic governors.
Currently, six former or current Republican governors are running for the presidential nomination: Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Mike Pence of Indiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, and Nikki Haley of South Carolina.

According to the Cato Institute’s fiscal policy economist Chris Edwards, the rankings of the six governors – whether measured in annual average increase of government spending or in annual average per capita increase – are:
  1.   Mike Pence (2.1% and 1.7%)
  2.   Asa Hutchinson (2.2% and 1.8%)
  3.   Doug Burgum (2.7% and 2.2%)
  4.   Chris Christie (2.9% and 2.8%)
  5.   Ron DeSantis (6.4% and 4.8%) and dead last is
  6.   Nikki Haley (6.7% and 5.5%)
No former or current Democratic governor is currently running against President Biden for the Democratic nomination, but the two governors most talked about for that slot are California’s Gavin Newsom and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer. Their records are not good. Newsom comes in with a dismal 9.8 percent annual growth of government spending and, given that California has lost population, 10.2 percent annual growth of government spending per capita. Whitmer comes in at 7.5 percent and 7.4 percent.
Of course, there are complications on both the Republican and Democratic sides. Governors don’t have total say on spending and must deal with legislatures. Also, it was harder to get a handle on spending during the Covid lockdown years than earlier.
Past performance is no guarantee of future success. The constraints on state governments are much tighter than on the federal government: 1.) state governments can’t print money; and 2,) most state governments have a balanced-budget requirement.

Still the differences between Republicans and Democrats, and among Republicans, are telling. 

Today's TaxByte was written by David R. Henderson, a research fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University