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Back of the class: Washington Governor Gregoire gets “F” on fiscal report card

Adding to a nagging “what if” scenario that Washington voters can mull over when they mark their ballots in the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and two-time gubernatorial vote-winner Dino Rossi, Gov. Chris Gregoire (D-Wash.) finally got something she deserves. On the Cato Institute’s biennial report card to all U.S. governors on their handling of fiscal matters, Gregoire ranks in the bottom quartile with a grade of “F.”

The Cato Institute did their homework when marking the red letter grade on the Gregoire governorship, citing a pattern of fiscal irresponsibility that has resulted in the steady downward trend in Gregoire’s approval ratings since her re-election in 2008.

Cato’s criteria was very uncomplicated, as explained by tax policy studies director Chris Edwards. “Governors who have cut taxes and spending the most receive the highest grades, while those who have increased taxes and spending the most receive the lowest grades,” Edwards wrote on Cato’s website.

By scoring the impact of proposed changes to spending and taxes (not only those enacted), Cato’s report comes as close to close to evaluating fiscal intent as possible. Gregoire rates poorly on both scores, earning a score of 20 for her proposed 4.5 percent increases to state spending coupled with a score of 45 for tax increases of 1.3 percent.

For those whose math skills are better than the Governor and her economic team, Cato’s numbers illustrate clearly how Gregoire planned to hit the accelerator on state spending at the same time as Washington was grappling with a massive budget crisis and the state’s private sector economy is in desperate need of a reprieve.

Although it is unknown what non-numerical factors might also been part of Cato’s grading criteria, Gregoire’s propensity for saying one thing during an election cycle and then doing the precise opposite wasn’t lost on those who drafted the libertarian thank tank’s findings. From the report:

While campaigning for reelection in 2008, Gregoire argued in favor of spending cuts rather than tax increases to balance the budget. But once reelected, she approved a large tax-hike package including increases in business taxes, sales taxes, cigarette taxes, beer taxes, and candy taxes.

Voters will have a say in repealing some of those new taxes when they vote on Initiative 1107, the ballot measure that would repeal a tax on some foods and beverages (including bottled water, soda and candy) if enacted by statewide vote in November.

The report card also zeroes in on Gregoire’s bias toward big government growth as an economic panacea, as well as her tendency to step on citizen input on government spending such as her signing of the state legislature’s bill that quashed the language of Initiative 960, the voter-approved state law that imposed a supermajority requirement on tax increases.

In 2009, Gregoire opposed a ballot effort to cap government budget growth, and the measure was defeated. She has supported putting a question on the ballot this November regarding whether to create a state income tax, aimed initially at higher earners. Washington voters have turned down the creation of an income tax numerous times in the past.

Voters will also have a chance to reimpose a supermajority requirement for the legislature to pass tax increases. Voters have approved a supermajority requirement three times in the past, but the legislature is allowed to amend the requirement after two years. Gregoire worked to reverse a previous supermajority requirement, but it was reimposed at the ballot box in 2007. The legislature repealed the requirement in 2010, and citizens will vote again on the issue this November.

Of the seven state chiefs to receive failing marks in Cato’s report, six were Democrats. In addition to Gregoire they were Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, David Paterson of New York, Pat Quinn of Illinois, Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Bill Ritter of Colorado, and Chris Gregoire of Washington. Jodi Rell of Connecticut was the sole Republican to receive the report’s worst grade.

Four governors were given “A” grades for the handling of fiscal matters: Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.), Bobby Jindal (R-La.), Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), and Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, , and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

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