By David Flemming
The Cato Institute gives Gov. Phil Scott high marks for his fiscal stewardship. It recently published the “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors 2020,” which uses publicly available data to assess the fiscal performance of the governors and how they restrained or grew the size of their state’s government from January 2018 to August 2020.
“Governors who received a grade of A have focused on reducing tax burdens and restraining spending. Governors who received a grade of F have pursued government expansion.”
How did Governor Scott do? His “B” grade was better than the governors in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island, all of whom received a “D.” Only Chris Sununu of New Hampshire did better than Scott in New England, with an “A.” Scott got the 7th best mark for a governor in the country. These grades were assigned based on how each governor averaged in three categories from when they started in office—spending growth (the less the better), tax revenue growth (the less the better), and tax rates (the lower the better).
The spending category looks at the change in spending of in a state’s General Fund budget (which governors have the most influence over), and factoring in population growth to attain a per capita figure (growing states like Massachusetts can afford to spend more than stagnant Vermont). Scott’s average proposed spending was an increase of 2.9% (adjusting for population change), which is nearly identical to the actual change in per capita spending for Vermont of 3.0%. The proposed and actual changes are averaged to find the spending score. Aside from Sununu, the only New England governor with a better spending score than Scott was Connecticut’s Ned Lamont (56 vs. 66), but Scott far surpassed Lamont in the revenue category (73 vs. 14).
The second category “changes in tax revenues” was where Scott outpaced many of his governor colleagues. Due to Scott’s vetoes and negotiations with the legislature, Vermont’s overall taxes are 0.8% lower since 2018 (though some individual Vermonters may still face tax increases). In contrast, governors in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island all contributed to raising taxes since 2018.
For the tax rate category, changes in corporate, personal income, and sales tax rates were all considered. Scott and Sununu were also the only New England governors to oversee a tax rate decrease since 2018, giving them a higher tax rate score than their colleagues. Scott’s was a reduction in personal income tax rate while Sununu was a reduction in the corporate income tax rate.
Scott’s spending growth score (56) tax revenue score (73), and tax rate score (54) combined for a 61 average or “B.”
Cato says of the Vermont Governor: “Scott has battled with the Vermont legislature in his efforts to restrain taxes and spending, and he has issued numerous vetoes. He has been a frugal budgeter: general fund spending rose at an annual average rate of just 2.4 percent between 2017 and 2020.”
Cato notes that their scores are not meant to paint a complete picture of a governor’s fiscal responsibility. “States grant governors differing amounts of authority over budget processes. For example, most governors can use a line-item veto to trim spending, but some governors do not have that power.” Vermont joins New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Indiana, Nevada and North Carolina as being the only states in the US which do not grant the governor line-item veto power to trim unnecessary spending. This makes Scott’s fiscal stewardship even more impressive. The entire Cato report can be found here.
David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.