WASHINGTON – Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening barely makes the grade when it comes to tax cuts and spending, according to a fiscal report card on the governors released Thursday by a conservative think tank.
Glendening’s overall fiscal policy score in the Cato Institute study rose from 31 in 1996 to 49 this year, bringing his grade from a low D to a high C. Of the 46 governors studied, Glendening ranked 22nd.
“We are encouraged with the gain of 18 points since 1996,” said Donald Vandrey, a spokesman for the governor.
But officials with Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ellen Sauerbrey’s campaign said Glendening cannot claim all the credit for his improved score.
“The only reason his score has gone up is because he is adopting ideas Ellen proposed in the 1994 election and is continuing to propose in this election,” said Jim Dornan, a spokesman for Sauerbrey.
Dornan said Glendening only supported a 10 percent income tax cut for Maryland “kicking and screaming after Ellen called for a 24 percent tax cut.”
The Cato Institute report said that despite the 10 percent Maryland income tax rate cut that is being phased in over five years, “the budget has expanded greatly during Glendening’s term.”
Vandrey said although the budget has expanded, Glendening is still able to budget for the tax cut, half of which is already in place, and still build a $700 million reserve.
He said the governor does not put a lot of weight in the scores, but that they seem to show that Maryland is taking a well-balanced approach to its budget.
The biennial Cato reports, first released in 1992, are cumulative studies of a governor’s term in office and reflect all action taken in fiscal 1998.
Governors with the most fiscally conservative records get the highest grades from the authors of the report, the institute’s director of fiscal policy studies, Stephen Moore, and fiscal policy analyst Dean Stansel.
“I’ve found that the governors are very hostile to this study,” Moore said. “Many governors said this is the first time in their lives that they ever received a D or an F.”
Governors who have spent more time in office have a greater tendency to be spendthrifts than those who are relatively new to the position, Moore said.
The purpose of the grades is “to reward those who have stimulated economic growth,” Stansel said.
Moore said there has been a shift toward fiscal conservatism in the 1990s due to a trend toward tax cutting on the state level and an increase in Republican control. The top 11 governors in the study were Republicans.
Moore said the Northeast has made the most progress. Within the last three years, it has “seen a rather bullish recovery” from the recession of the early 1990s.