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Who is the fiscally conservative governor?


Special Commentary by Chris Graham
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The small but cheery group of Republicans who are doing what they can to boost Jim Gilmore in his Senate race against Mark Warner are heartily pushing, following Gilmore’s lead, the notion that he is a fiscal conservative and that Warner is a tax-and-spend liberal and so you ought to vote for Gilmore because he’ll make sure your money is spent wisely.

Part and parcel to this idea is the dizzying array of numbers that the hacks have been throwing at the wall in hopes of distracting us enough that more of us will begin to believe the hype that they’re trying to get us to buy.

It doesn’t seem to be working, of course, which I say considering the poll data that has Gilmore trailing Warner somewhere in the 25-point range. Which is probably why no one in the media has picked up on the lie that is the message that Gilmore is the conservative and Warner the liberal in the ’08 Senate race.

I analyzed numbers from the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget web page that show that Gilmore and Warner are very much in line with each other as budget writers – and that, perhaps surprising to some, Tim Kaine is the most fiscally conservative of the bunch.

Here’s what I did – I looked at the bottom-line operating budgets for fiscal years dating back to 1997, the third year of the George Allen administration, through to 2010, the second year of the current budget biennium and the fourth and final budget year under Kaine. I used the final budget of each governor’s predecessor (beginning with Gilmore, who succeeded Allen in 1998) to set the budget base, if you will, and then judged the growth during their administration by comparing where they started (the base) to where they finished (the bottom-line operating budget for the final year of their term in office).

Pretty simple, I think. So here’s what we get. The final Allen budget, for fiscal-year 1998, was set at $17.6 billion. Using that as the base for the Gilmore years that followed, we skip ahead to the 2002 fiscal year, in which Gilmore and state legislators agreed on a $23.5 billion budget. Expenditures grew by $5.9 billion using my metric here, or 33.5 percent.

This gets us to the Warner years. That FY ’02 budget of $23.5 billion is the base that we will use to begin our look at the Warner impact on the budget. From there we look ahead to FY ’06, when Warner and the General Assembly adopted a $31.9 billion state budget. That represents growth in annual expenditures of $8.4 billion, or 35.7 percent.

That’s a difference in budget impact between the two of 2.2 percent. Hardly, then, could the case be made that one is a tightfist and the other a spendthrift.

Just for fun, I wanted to look at the Kaine years to see where he fit in as far as this comparison would be concerned. We use the $31.9 billion budget of FY ’06 as our base, and then look ahead to FY ’10 and the on-paper budget of $38.3 billion, which we can expect to retract a bit given the current budget shortfall that should lead to at least a few targeted budget cuts to get spending in line with revenues. But just using the current statutory guideline as our comparison point, we have growth on the order of $6.4 billion annually in the Kaine years, or 20 percent.

Turns out I was doing more than having fun there. I’m thinking of the silly comments made by House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith to the effect that Kaine is someone who has trouble with budgets considering the shortfall situation that we’re in right now. I guess we can chalk that up to cheap politics, considering that Kaine is, by this measure, anyway, the most fiscally conservative of our most recent three governors.

But then, that’s something based in fact, and we all know that in politically charged election seasons facts aren’t a primary focus.



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