Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Why should Pa. settle for mediocrity?

"Governors who have cut taxes and spending the most receive the highest grades. Those who have raised taxes and spending receive the lowest grades."

That conclusion is from the 40-page executive summary of a new report grading the nation's governors on fiscal policy.

The eighth annual survey was prepared by the Cato Institute, a non-profit policy research foundation in Washington, D.C. The institute is named for Cato's Letters, a series of libertarian pamphlets that helped lay the philosophical foundation for the American Revolution, according to the group's Web site.

Inexplicably, Gov. Ed Rendell received a C in the fiscal report card. Those of us living in Pennsylvania know firsthand that Rendell has tried everything in his power to destroy the state's economy over the past four years.

That includes raising taxes, increasing state spending to record levels, imposing burdensome regulations on businesses and borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars. That's a surefire recipe for fiscal disaster.

But the folks at the Cato Institute saw fit to give Rendell a C for his first term in office. That's an improvement over the F grade the Cato Institute gave Rendell for his first two years.

I'm not so sure the folks at Cato have been following Rendell's tenure closely because nearly every independent account of Pennsylvania's business climate has ranked the state near the bottom of the barrel. Rendell is also a master of propaganda. He could sell a snow cone to an Eskimo. He has a lot of voters believing he's going to cut their taxes even though he's raised taxes repeatedly since taking office in 2003.

Independent observers closer to home, such as the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, a free-market think tank in Harrisburg, have been far less kind to Rendell, giving the governor an F minus for his economic policies in a survey released earlier this year. Rendell also earned an F minus in the Commonwealth Foundation’s "Liberty Index" two years ago.

Back to the Cato rankings. While C is somewhere between average and mediocre, it beats the Ds and Fs earned by other governors.

Only one governor of the 46 reviewed earned an A this year — Republican Matt Blunt of Missouri. The next two highest-scoring Republicans are Rick Perry of Texas and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. The highest-scoring Democratic governors are John Lynch of New Hampshire and Phil Bredesen of Tennessee.

Blunt earned the gold star for cutting his state's budget, eliminating hundreds of government jobs and restraining Medicaid spending, according to the Cato Institute.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who topped the 2004 governors report card with an A, drops to a D this year due to an overall increase in his state's budget.

The "Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors: 2006," by Cato director of budget studies Stephen Slivinski, emphasizes the importance of tax cuts and provides evidence showing that "states that reduce taxes improve their prospects for economic growth," the institute states on its Web site.

The report card grades the governors on 23 objective measures, awarding the highest grades to those who have reined in spending and cut taxes.

Nine governors receive Fs. They are Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, Michael Easley of North Carolina, Kenny Guinn of Nevada, Christine Gregoire of Washington, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Bob Riley of Alabama, and Brian Schweitzer of Montana.

Governors who received good grades in previous editions of the report card but have lower grades this year include Schwarzenegger (current grade, D); Jeb Bush of Florida (current grade, C); Bill Owens of Colorado (current grade, D); George Pataki of New York (current grade, D); and Bill Richardson of New Mexico (current grade, C).

The complete report can be viewed at the Cato Institute's Web site, www.cato.org

Pennsylvania voters will go to the polls Nov. 7 to decide if they want four more years of mediocrity with Ed Rendell or give Lynn Swann a chance to turn Pennsylvania around.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com