Most Governors Running for President Have Mixed Economic Records

by | July 29, 2015

By Mark Niquette

Miracles are regular occurrences for governors who want to be president of the U.S.

Rick Perry's supporters have talked about the "Texas Miracle" of job growth. Post-recession recoveries under John Kasich and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal are the "Ohio Miracle" and the "Miracle on the Bayou."

Politicians regardless of party put a supernatural gloss on economic cause and effect. Reality is more nuanced. Bloomberg News examined the records of 10 governors and ex-governors trying to occupy the White House in 2016, considering 11 economic indicators.

Each governor can boast about something. Ohio's increase in gross domestic product under Kasich ranks ninth among all states for his years in office. Gov. Scott Walker can point to Wisconsin's ranking of 14th in business creation, his highest score.

While comparing governors directly is problematic because they served in different times amid varying economic conditions, one can examine their median national standings of their states on the 11 indicators.

Florida under former Gov. Jeb Bush had the highest median ranking at seven, scoring higher in more categories than any other state. Texas under Perry was second, with a median of 11 and Ohio was third at 17. New Jersey under Gov. Chris Christie had the lowest median at 41.

Scrutinizing the numbers beneath the rhetoric shows how bubbles, booms and outside forces can make the miraculous look distinctly down to earth.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

Bush, a Republican, is promising to do for the U.S. economy what he did for Florida's during his two terms from 1999 to 2007: 1.3 million jobs, 4.4 percent growth, higher family income and tax cuts.

"We made Florida number one in job creation and number one in small-business creation," Bush said June 15.

Yet Florida benefited from the housing bubble that coincided with the governor's tenure. During the four years after Bush left office, only Nevada lost a greater percentage of jobs, according to federal data. The rising housing market accounted for about a quarter of the annual increase in Florida's gross domestic product from 2000 to 2005, according to Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow Inc.

Read more about his record here.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Christie said he inherited an "economic calamity" when he took office in January 2010, with a deficit, rising taxes and zero job growth for a decade.

"The last six years, we proved not only can you govern this state, you can lead it to a better day," Christie, a two- term Republican, said June 30.

While New Jersey's unemployment has dropped 3.7 percentage points from a post-recession high of 9.8 percent when he was sworn in, the state ranked 47th in job growth under Christie and its $83 billion unfunded pension liability continues to grow. New Jersey's credit has been downgraded nine times under Christie, the most for a state governor.

Between 2009 and 2011, the bulk of all income increases went to New Jersey's top 1 percent of earners, according to a 2014 study headed by Norman J. Glickman, an urban policy professor at Rutgers University. "He's done a lot of things that have hurt working people and have hurt jobs," Glickman said.

Read more about his record here.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

Jindal contrasts conditions when he took office in 2008 after Hurricane Katrina to today, with the highest population, most people working and largest incomes in state history.

"A job for your family, a paycheck in your mailbox," Jindal said June 24. "They're the ultimate proof that your state is doing things right." Louisiana has reversed a 25-year trend of outmigration _ though that started in 2007, before Jindal took office, according to the state's economic-development department.

Yet only New Mexico and West Virginia had larger unemployment rate increases than Louisiana under Jindal.

The poverty rate also was 19.8 percent in 2013, compared with 15.8 percent for the U.S.

Louisiana was given a negative credit outlook in February by Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's, based on a structural budget imbalance and an overreliance on one-time fixes. The gap for 2016 was $1.6 billion.

Read more about his record here.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich

Kasich often says the state was "basically dead" when he took office in January 2011, having lost 350,000 jobs while facing a shortfall of about $8 billion.

The governor touts having recovered all the private-sector jobs and more, a structurally balanced budget, plus a $2 billion surplus and stable credit. Critics say he cut spending on local governments and schools without asking the wealthy to sacrifice.

Kasich doesn't mention that the economy had started to recover before he took office. Ohio added more than 59,000 jobs during his Democratic predecessor's last year, in 2010.

Read more about his record here.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley

On May 30, O'Malley said there's still time to change what he described as an American dream "hanging by a thread."

"We raised the minimum wage and we sustained the highest median income in America," O'Malley, a Democrat, said of his two terms as governor.

Yet the federal government has an outsized influence on Maryland, said Daraius Irani, chief economist of the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University near Baltimore.

He estimated that federal workers and contractors at the state's 15 military institutions and other facilities _ who tend to be older and better-paid than the average worker _ account for about 20 percent of the workforce.

Read more about his record here.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

In his farewell address, Perry said that during his record 15-year tenure, the Lone Star state created almost one-third of the nation's new jobs.

"Job creation, not higher taxation, is the best form of revenue generation," Perry said Jan. 15.

Texas accounted for 28 percent of both U.S. non-farm and private-sector jobs added between December 2000 and January, when he left. Yet its economy benefited from burgeoning oil and natural gas drilling, and those jobs didn't always translate into a higher standard of living.

Almost 6 percent of Texan hourly workers made the federal minimum wage or less last year, compared with about 4 percent in the U.S. Twenty percent of residents lacked health insurance in 2013, tied with Nevada for highest in the U.S.

Read more about his record here.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

As he campaigned for governor in 2010, Walker promised that Wisconsin would create 250,000 jobs during his first term.

After only about half those jobs materialized, the two-term Republican is now talking about other things.

"We turned things around so much that our rainy day fund is 165 times bigger than when we took office," Walker said June 2.

State law requires deposits when tax revenue exceeds estimates, and there have been no transfers for the past two years because lawmakers suspended them to spend the funds on other purposes.

The governor has defended his jobs pledge as an effort to "set high goals" after the state lost 133,000 jobs during his Democratic predecessor's term.

Yet Wisconsin ranks 34th in job creation during Walker's tenure, data show.

Read more about his record here.

(Margaret Newkirk and Duane D. Stanford in Atlanta, Terrence Dopp in Trenton, N.J., John McCormick in Chicago and Michelle Jamrisko in Washington contributed to this report.)

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