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Voters in Big States Prefer Skinflint Candidates
The gubernatorial races in America's eight largest states reveal that voters want belt-tightening.


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Michael Barone

‘Government in New York is too big, ineffective, and expensive,” the candidate’s website proclaims. “We must get our state’s fiscal house in order by immediately imposing a cap on state spending and freezing salaries of state public employees as part of a one-year emergency financial plan, committing to no increase in personal or corporate income taxes of sales taxes and imposing a local property tax cap.”

A tea-party candidate? Some right-wing Republican? No, it’s Andrew Cuomo, son of three-term Democratic governor Mario Cuomo. Interestingly, he’s the only Democrat with a significant polling lead in the gubernatorial races in our eight largest states, which together have 48 percent of the nation’s population.

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It’s a poorly kept secret that government is growing not only at the federal but also at the state and local levels. Especially in some of the biggest states, public-employee unions have successfully pressed for higher pay and lavish pensions (one Illinois school superintendent’s pension is valued at $26 million) to the point that public employees’ salaries and benefits are higher than those of the private-sector taxpayers who pay for them.

So while 8 million private-sector jobs have disappeared, the number of public-sector job losses is near zero.

Barack Obama’s solution is to send borrowed federal dollars — one-third of the $862 billion stimulus package last year and now a proposal for another $23 billion for teachers — to states and localities to prop up the pay of unionized public employees. One reason: Unions gave Obama and the Democrats $400 million in the 2008 cycle.

State governors can’t resort to deficit spending without risky gimmicks, and what’s more, as Andrew Cuomo’s platform suggests, voters don’t want them to.

As a result, Republicans are leading or running even in gubernatorial races in seven of the eight largest states. In California, Democrat Jerry Brown — at 72, seeking the office he first won at 36 — is below 50 percent against eBay billionaire Meg Whitman. In Texas, tea-party favorite Rick Perry leads Democrat Bill White, who had a moderate record as mayor of Houston. In Florida, all polls have shown Republicans leading the one Democrat in statewide office.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Tom Corbett seems likely to regain the governorship for his party in a state where party control has shifted every eight years since 1950.



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