Governor William Weld of Massachusetts catapulted to national attention when he took office in early 1991. Here was a Republican fiscal conservative taking charge of the most liberal state in the nation, replacing Michael Dukakis no less, and in sharp contrast to most other American governors, he was cleaning up the fiscal mess left by his predecessor through spending reductions rather than tax increases.
Once touted as the "Great Libertarian Hope" because of his combination of fiscal conservatism and pro-choice, pro-gay-rights social liberalism, Mr. Weld has lost some of his luster among limited-government enthusiasts since he embraced a draconian recycling measure at odds with his libertarian principles, pushed for a state venture-capital fund that looks like a Massachusetts version of national industrial policy, and called for a number of new spending initiatives in his fiscal year 1994 budget.
Even so, Governor Weld remains on everyone's list as a major contender for national Republican leadership in coming years, particularly if he is re-elected as governor in 1994 -- he has said he will not challenge Teddy Kennedy for the Senate that year. Re-election is not a shoo-in, because Bay State unemployment remains high, and because it is unlikely that the Massachusetts Democratic Party will be as divided in 1994 as it was in 1990 when many social liberals voted for Mr. Weld in protest against the Democratic candidate, Boston University president John Silber.
But should the state economy pick up -- and economic growth is his top priority for the next two years -- the governor will be hard to beat in 1994. One potential opponent, Representative Joe Kennedy, already has bowed out of the race.
To be considered seriously as a GOP presidential or vice- presidential candidate, Mr. Weld at some point will have to find an issue where he can win the enthusiastic support of social conservatives. Conservative evangelicals and Catholics are now distrustful of the Massachusetts governor because of his strongly articulated pro-choice and pro-gay-rights positions. He will have to attract them on something else if he aspires to lead his party nationally.
In late January 1993, I talked with Governor Weld about his record in Massachusetts, the principles he has used to restore fiscal balance to state finances, his views of the future of the Republican Party, and his own priorities for coming years.
Policy Review: Inheriting a state fiscal crisis from Michael Dukakis, you became a national hero among taxpayer groups by balancing the 1991 and 1992 Massachusetts budgets through spending reduction, not tax increases. You even cut the personal income-tax rate from 6.25 percent to 5.95 percent. What principles guided your decisions about where to cut state spending?
Weld: We had to cut spending almost everywhere, because when we came in we were one notch above junk-bond status in our bond rating. If we'd fallen one more notch, that would have been the governmental equivalent of bankruptcy. Every fiduciary would have had to sell all the Massachusetts paper it was holding because we would have been below investment grade. So the overwhelming need was to show the markets that we were serious about living within our means, which we had not been for the previous several years.
The top priority was to get a grip on the accounts that were spinning most wildly out of control. One was welfare, where we reduced the caseload from 38,000 to 22,000 by purging able-bodied adults without children from the General Relief rolls and targeting aid to the elderly, the frail, and the handicapped -- people who, by anybody's estimation, need the help.
Previously, if you were over 45, slightly obese, and without a stable work history, you would have qualified for full-time taxpayer support; that means I would have qualified for welfare under the old system. …