Oh, how we love that liberal media

Brent Bozell writes:

Should we feel sorry for the press as they try, frantically, to apply a barrel of pancake makeup to Howard Dean and present this raging leftist to America as a soggy “centrist”? This is a really tough job. … It’s hard not to snicker at the thought of newspapers like The Washington Post declaring in a Sunday front-page headline: “As Governor, Dean Was Fiscal Conservative.”

Jacqueline Shalit, writing in the Washington Times:

Mr. Dean is a fiscal conservative with his Vermont record to prove it.

More importantly, Bozell misses the point entirely. [Astounding!] The fiscal conservative argument on Dean is that Vermont has not accumulated budget deficits (unlike, say, President Bush) during his time in office. [Indeed, Vermont went from a $70 million deficit to a $10 million surplus.] Having missed the point, Bozell goes one better by arguing: “Dean, according to the Cato Institute, led one of the nation’s highest taxing and spending states.”

Bozell doesn’t bore us with a reference, but Cato’s most comprehensive study on the topic are its Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors. [The 2000 report is available as a PDF file here, and the 2002 report here.]

Why not start with 2000, which covered both Governors Dean and Bush?
Where did Dean rank? His overall fiscal policy grade was 53, placing him 34th. (ahead of 7 Republican governors.) On spending, Dean was ranked 10th (for frugality,) and Bush 7th. For “Average Annual Change in Real per Capita Tax Revenue through 1998” Dean was listed fourth under the heading “Best Revenue Restraint.” For “Average Annual Change in Tax Revenue per $1,000 Personal Income through 1998” Dean was (again) ranked fourth for “Best Revenue Restraint.” Dean does feature as a “top 10 tax hikers” Bozell might counter. Indeed. But what was his “Average Annual Recommended Tax Changes as a Percentage of Prior Year’s Spending?” 1.88%. (In fourth place, he is beaten by 2 Republican governors.) [Dean’s tax increases came from higher corporate income taxes, personal income tax went down –according to Cato– under Dean.] Cato’s comments on Dean?

In some ways he is. [Vermont?s most fiscally conservative governor
in decades.] In his first three terms as governor (Vermont still has two year terms), state spending rose by less than personal income growth. In 1999 he sought and won support for an across-the-board income tax cut to make the state more economically competitive.

Curious what Cato had to say about Bush?

He is a politician who seems to always want to keep everyone happy. His last budget climbed to growth rates not seen since Ann Richards: his last budget grew by close to 10 percent, among the largest increases in the nation in 1999. He shoveled a record $2.1 billion of new money into the Texas schools and then declared himself “the education governor.” In 1993 Bush crafted a convoluted tax-restructuring scheme that proved to be hugely unpopular with small businesspeople who would have seen their tax bills rise.
The plan blew up, Bush was politically wounded, and finally he strategically retreated and signed a $1 billion property tax cut instead.

Amazingly, in its 2002 report the Cato institute simply repeated much of what it had said in 2000, but came to a very different conclusion. Dean went from being in many ways a fiscal conservative to exhibiting “so-called fiscal conservatism.” [In case we couldn’t have guessed what brought about this change of heart, Cato points out “Dean is
said to be a potential Democratic presidential
nominee.” You don’t say!]

But what does Cato’s data show? For the period 1991-2000, real per capita spending increased by 32% in Vermont (30th) — compared to 47% in Texas (11th.)

On spending, Dean went from a ranking of 10th to 8th (again, this is frugality in spending) and from a grade of C to B.
Did Dean make the top 5 list for “Average Annual Change in General Fund Spending per $1,000 Personal Income, 2000?2002.” Yep. 4th again. (-4.7%.) [Four of the five governors with the worst spending restraint are Republicans. Three of the five with the best spending restraint are Democrats.] Did Dean make the top 5 list for “best revenue restraint” in Average Annual Change in Real per Capita General Fund Revenue, 2000?2002? Yep. [Were 4 of the 5 governors with the worst revenue restraints Republicans? Yep. The fifth was Independent Jesse Ventura.] To be fair, Dean is listed again as a top tax hikers, although again this comes from a whopping 1.9% for proposed and enacted tax increases.

So why the change of heart on Dean? You tell us.

And the next time someone tells you Republicans are fiscal conservatives, tell them the Cato Institute doesn’t agree:

There is a surprising lack of fiscally conservative stars in the current field of GOP governors. Most Republican governors have fiscal records more closely resembling that of Nelson Rockefeller than that of Ronald Reagan.



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