Can the new governors deliver? That's the question after a
whole slew of new GOP governors flooded into office promising to
cut, chop and slash state budgets.
In New York, George Pataki pledged to cut the income tax rate
by one-fourth. In Connecticut, John Rowland vowed to repeal the
state's income tax by the year 2000. Republicans won a majority of
governorships by advertising themselves as the party of budget
Their opponents had solemnly intoned that state governments
absolutely, positively cannot operate with a cent less than they
currently spend. "On the spending side, I don't see how you get
from here to there," says Steve Gold, director of the Study of
States, in Albany, N.Y.
History shows it can be done. In 1990, William Weld of
Massachusetts was considered crazy for promising not to raise taxes
in a state with an $850 million deficit. This year, he cruised to
re-election with more than 70 percent of the vote, thanks to a
balanced budget and, read his lips, "no new taxes."
Weld's boldness inspired New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd
Whitman. Whitman was elected in 1993 by promising lower taxes, and
she immediately pushed through a 30 percent tax reduction.
Michigan Gov. John Engler is another ax-wielder who cruised to
re-election, and he proves the first law of politics: "The more tax
money that flows into government coffers the more money government
will spend." Whitman states the corollary: "As soon as you start
limiting revenues, government will do more with less."
Rather than crippling state governments, less money could make
them healthier. Tax cuts create the discipline needed to streamline
operations. States will have to learn to live within their means.
Here's how they can do it:
Cut the help. It's time to let the chauffeur go. Experience
shows that employment can be cut significantly without reducing
In his first 21 months, Weld cut the number of state employees
under his control by almost 7,000, a 14 percent decrease. To stave
off privatization, Massachusetts employees in the money-counting
operation of the subway system voluntarily cut the number of
workers to 59 from 71. In four years, Engler has cut the Michigan
state payroll by 8 percent.
Gov. Terry Branstead of Iowa laid off 1,200 workers to balance
his state's budget during the recession.
Significant downsizing can't occur without taking on the
unions, and fiscal necessity can often provide the political
courage needed. A promise to control spending sends the message
that a governor puts taxpayers first. "Do I feel that I have an
obligation to see to it that people who have been working in state
government continue to work in state government? No, I don't,"
Weld told Forbes last year. …