Cato Institute: Taft lowest scoring governor in U.S.

Sarah Baldwin

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft received a big fat “F” on the Cato Institute’s seventh biennial fiscal report card, which was released March 1.

Three other governors were assigned an “F” on the report card too — Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell and New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey. However, Taft was ranked the lowest.

Cato’s fiscal report card takes into account a governor’s decision with the state’s budget on 15 objective measures, which generally include taxes and spending. The more a governor taxed a state, the lower the score. Those who cut taxes and spending received higher grades.

The Cato Institute is a non-profit free-market think tank out of Washington, D.C. It has been doing the fiscal report card for governors since 1992. The goal of the report card is to give a snapshot of the past two years of a governor’s term.

Stephen Slivinski, director of budget studies at the Cato Institute, as well as co-author of the report card, said that the grade assigned to Taft was based on 15 different criteria involving monetary choices. Slivinski added that the report card rating also considers the condition of the state and what specific issues the governor has to deal with.

“We realize every state is different,” Slivinski said. “We try to make it as ‘apples to apples’ as we can.”

He said that the current grade is not written in stone. It’s more like a midterm grade of a governor’s performance. Many governors, particularly young ones, get in touch with the Cato Institute and attempt to find out how to improve their ranking.

However, Taft does not seem very interested in the Cato Institute’s report card or the grade he has received from them, Slivinski said. Taft received an “F” on the last report card, and despite being continually called on his mistakes by various people and groups, the grade hasn’t changed.

“Bob Taft has just written us off as being cranky people,” Slivinski said.

Mark Rickel, Taft’s spokesman, said the report card doesn’t take into account Taft’s recent budget proposal, which is the tightest one in 40 years.

“In addition to restraining government spending, the budget proposal includes a tax reform plan that will improve the state’s economy and reduce the overall burden on businesses and individuals,” Rickel said.

David Creamer, vice president of administration, pointed out that it is important to consider the viewpoint of the Cato Institute when reading Taft’s rating.

“It reflects their value system,” Creamer said. “My interpretation is that it is not a fair assessment of Ohio’s performance and the governor’s performance.”

Arnold Swarzenegger, governor of California, received the highest grade overall, and Slivinski attributes that to Swarzenegger’s ability to both corral positive public opinion, as well as achieve quick success with bills he has introduced to legislature.

Compared to Swarzenegger, Taft is locked into bad thinking about public policy, Slivinski said.

Contact public affairs reporter Sarah Baldwin at [email protected]