Cato Grades Governors

The Cato Institute has released a report analyzing the fiscal prudence of the nation's 50 state governors. The top marks went to none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. Arnie came into office with a massive state deficit, and has been whacking away at it ever since. He also promised not to raise taxes to close the gap, which he has more or less stuck to. A point worthy of mention is that Arnie is one of the most popular governors in office.

State governments have a constraint on their spending that the Federal government does not: they cannot simply print new money and inflate their debts away to zero. One would imagine that the states would tend to be more conservative, and yet we find that many states managed to run up huge deficits that they are having trouble financing. (Note: the site I link to seems to believe that the answer is taxes, taxes, and more taxes. Obviously, I disagree. But they also note that the Federal government has foisted hundreds of billions of dollars worth of unfunded mandates onto the states, which is wrong on so many levels I cannot even begin to describe them. Actually, I can: it is a gross violation of the Federalist principle.)

Could Arnie's staggering popularity, achieved precisely because he is willing to take on the entrenched class of public parasites that are driving up California's budget year after year, perhaps encourage other elected officials to discover fiscal prudence as well? I hope so. For a government to run persistent deficits, and accumulate ever-increasing debts, is corrosive to public policy. There are only three ways such a scenario can play out: by paying down the debt, by paying off the minimums on the credit card every month and hoping you can keep up, or by defaulting on the debt entirely. Not paying off debt immediately amounts to passing the buck to future generations. Being part of an imminent "future generation" myself, I am not amused by such irresponsibility on the part of government officials.

One could rightly ask why I have such a visceral opposition to raising taxes, since that would also ameliorate the present deficit problem. My answer is that I have no confidence in government's self-discipline. Perhaps they would keep their spending under control for a few years, but soon you will get another would-be FDR who simply spends everything he can get his hands on. I would much prefer the Arnold Approach: no new taxes, and elimination of spending. Especially pork-barrel projects.

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