Ranking Governors on Effectiveness, Not Tax Increases

Time's rankings miss the mark

The latest issue of Time ranks some of the nation’s governors. While it stops short of ranking all 50 state leaders, Time focused on the best and the worst. In addition, it discusses the accomplishments of two “celebrity” governors.

While the “five best governors” should be honored to receive the recognition it unfortunately is meaningless and somewhat undeserving. Furthermore, Time glosses over the broad accomplishments of one the celebrity governors and totally misses the mark on one of the “worst” governors.

Time goes wrong from the beginning. It seems as if their key criteria for good governing includes increasing taxes and more public expenditures on new government programs. Indeed, four of the five governors presided over massive tax increase and the fifth fought for one. Governors Kenny Guinn (R-Nevada), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), Mike Huckabee (R-Arkansas), Katherine Sebelius (D-Kansas) and Janet Napolitano (D-Arizona) passed or advocated tax increases of $830 million, $1.4 billion, $250 million, $154 million and $70 million, respectively. Perhaps most surprising, Time didn’t extend its list to include Colorado Gov. Bill Owens who successfully fought for the equivalent of a $5 billion tax increase this past November-I guess there’s always next year.

Take Gov. Mark Warner for example. As governor of Virginia, he fought for and received a $1.4 billion tax increase-arguing that the state desperately needed it. Unfortunately, time (no pun intended) has proved him wrong. Ever since the tax increase, the state has seen nothing but huge surpluses of almost $5 billion – above the tax increase. Seems the critics were right, Virginia grew out a budget shortfall despite Warner’s best efforts.

For the most part these five “best” showed little creativity or innovation, mostly relying on traditional means of doing business. Perhaps that’s what landed South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford on the “worst” list. His drive to excel, demand performance, innovate, and significantly alter the way government functions doesn’t fit well in the Time mold.

Sanford’s efforts have made him many enemies in the state legislature as well. In just two years time he has issued around 270 budget vetoes-only 11 have withstood override. However, Sanford understands that he works for the citizens and taxpayers of South Carolina, not the legislature. It’s also worth noting that he is constitutionally weak-ranking 47th in the country in terms of executive power to make change, something he has fought hard to change. Perhaps that’s the root cause for his unpopularity among legislators, they don’t want to lose power?

If you’re still not convinced, look at Sanford’s record. In less than three years in office he has cut small business taxes by 28.5 percent, slowed the growth of government, and passed the state’s first-ever tort reforms. Not too bad for one of the worst governors in America. But these accomplishments pale in comparison to Sanford’s future plans-he wants to completely overhaul Medicaid, divest unneeded state assets, identify and implement public-private partnerships and find more tax cuts.

Time also glosses over the tremendous record of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, saying that he hasn’t been able to turn his celebrity into full-blown success. This completely ignores his efforts at tort reform, overhauling Medicaid and the state pension system, numerous tax cuts, radically altering the civil service system, and actually shrinking the size of the government workforce by 3,800. In addition, personal income grew by 5.6 percent last year and while overall state spending nationwide went up an average of 6.8 percent, the increase in Florida is just 1.6 percent.

Bush has also privatized or contracted out more functions under his watch than any other governor around, leading to dramatic improvements in quality and tremendously lower costs. Perhaps what lands Bush on the no-name list is the over $15 billion in tax cuts he’s delivered to Florida taxpayers and businesses during his tenure—all of this while other states sought tax increases.

Sanford and Bush deserve to be on everyone’s list of this nation’s best governors. They’re innovative, principled and fight for genuine government reform. For these two, business as usual just doesn’t cut it.

Of course, there are others that are worth mentioning as well. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is privatizing services left and right, consolidating agencies and divesting excess assets. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has showed tremendous leadership and poise post hurricane Katrina (note: Louisiana Gov. Blanco made Time‘s “worst list”). He’s focusing on rebuilding Mississippi and not playing the blame game. And finally, Texas Gov. Rick Perry-he’s instituted tort reform, property rights protections, and the largest public-private transportation project in America.

I think taxpayers would agree. It’s far better if your governor was left off of Time‘s list and on ours.

Geoffrey F. Segal is the director of government reform at Reason Foundation.