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Grading our Governor: Abercrombie’s “F”

Posted October 12, 2012, 04:36 PM HST Updated October 12, 2012, 06:16 PM HST
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What would he say, if he could say anything?

Neil Abercrombie just got an “F.”

If that headline gets you fuming, don’t blame us (if it makes you clap, don’t praise us either.)

As reported by Hawaii media, our governor just managed to flunk out on the Cato Institute’s “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.”

Mind you, if the folks at Cato leaned any more toward libertarianism, they’d be planking. And given that Abercrombie isn’t into the whole “government is evil” thing, their disdain probably isn’t causing him to cry into his cereal every morning.

But should you be worried?

John Allison, president of the Cato Institute, which had harsh words for Gov. Abercrombie. Image courtesy Swedish American Chambers of Commerce.

To give a little context, let’s take a look at who made the “top of the class” over at Cato.

Enjoying lavish praise for cutting taxes and slashing spending are Governors Sam Brownback of Kansas, Rick Scott of Florida, Paul LePage of Maine, and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.

With the exception of Sam Brownback of Kansas, every governor on that list is at the helm of a state with an unemployment rate significantly higher than that found in Hawaii. Here, 6.1% of workers are without a gig.

In Pennsylvania, where Governor Tom Corbett has attempted to slash the state budget (while simultaneously eliminating taxes on the natural gas industry), unemployment has risen to 8.1%.

Florida Governor Rick Scott abandoned billions in federal assistance for high-speed rail. Image courtesy Yale University.

Meanwhile in Florida, where Governor Rick Scott famously rejected $2.3 billion in federal funding for high speed rail, the number of unemployed workers began rising again in June, and now sits at 8.8%.

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Are you jealous yet?

To be fair, many of the governors that share the bottom rung of Cato’s list along with Abercrombie are in the same boat as their Republican counterparts. Washington State and Illinois are suffering from unemployment rates of 8.5% and 9.1% respectively.

Unlike many other states, Hawaii has been able to rely on a rapidly recovering tourism market to help keep its population working.

Still, gutting spending during a recession is a great way to kneecap an economic recovery, and both the Abercrombie and the Hawaii State Legislature managed to avoid that for the state’s 2012-2013 budget. They approved $800 million in new debt toward capital-improvement projects, while raising $600 million in new revenue.

Given that math, it’s not shocking that budget watchdogs like Cato would start to howl.

University of Hawaii at Manoa. Courtesy image.

But it’s not like they’re barking up the wrong tree entirely. Our state isn’t known for being a lean, mean, bureaucrat-busting machine. Wander the halls of the DOE or University of Hawaii, and you’ll find plenty of folks who, when asked what they do for a living, respond by saying something like “I facilitate cross-disciplinary coordination.”

Abercrombie has lots of work cut out for him, and plenty to cut once an economic recovery has fully taken hold here. His ability to trim the fat during the good times may be an even more important measure of leadership than his efforts at economic damage-control amid a recession.

Making us a little less top-heavy when the state’s economy is flying high will give us more flexibility the next time a recession rolls our way.

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