A few days ago, I endorsed Mitt Romney. In the course of that endorsement, I noted that he had “a solid record of conservative accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts,” but didn’t elaborate. This post explains why I think Romney’s record in office was solidly conservative.
First, here is Romney himself discussing, briefly, his term as Governor of Massachusetts:
The Club For Growth, a relatively purist group, gave Romney’s term a mixed but generally favorable review. Here are some highlights:
Governor Romney’s single term contained some solid efforts to promote pro-growth tax policy. In May of 2004, Mitt Romney proposed cutting the state’s income tax rate from 5.3% to 5.0%—a measure Massachusetts voters had approved in a 2000 referendum, but was blocked by the State Legislature in 2002. The proposed tax cut would have provided $675 million in relief over a year and a half. When the Massachusetts Legislature refused to budge, Romney proposed the same tax cut in 2005 and again in 2006 with no success. Romney was more successful when he took on the State Legislature for imposing a retroactive tax on capital gains earnings. After a bloody fight, Romney succeeded in passing a bill preventing the capital gains tax from being applied retroactively, resulting in a rebate of $275 million for capital gains taxes collected in 2002. …
Governor Romney’s record on spending must be considered within the liberal political context in which he governed. … On balance, his record comes out more positive than negative, especially when one considers that average spending increased only 2.22% over his four years, well below the population plus inflation benchmark of nearly 3%. …
Governor Romney successfully consolidated the social service and public health bureaucracy and restructured the Metropolitan District Commission. Romney even eliminated half of the executive branch’s press positions, saving $1.2 million. He also used his emergency fiscal powers to make $425 million worth of cuts in 2006, taking particular aim at local earmarks, instead of allowing the Legislature to dip into the state’s $1.2 billion rainy day fund. While there is no question that Governor Romney’s initial fiscal discipline slacked off in the second half of his term, on balance, he imposed some much-needed fiscal discipline on a very liberal Massachusetts Legislature.
On welfare and entitlements, Romney’s record was excellent:
As governor, Romney pushed for important changes to Massachusetts expansive welfare system. Although federal welfare reform passed in 1995, Massachusetts was woefully behind, relying on a waiver to bypass many of the legislation’s important requirements. Romney fought for legislation that would bring Massachusetts’ welfare system up to date with federal standards by increasing the number of hours each week recipients must work and establishing a five-year limit for receiving benefits. Much to his credit and to the dismay of many Massachusetts liberals, Romney successfully forced Medicaid recipients to make co-payments for some services and successfully pushed for legislative action forcing new state workers to contribute 25% of their health insurance costs, up from 15%. Governor Romney also deserves praise for proposing to revolutionize the Massachusetts state pension system by moving it from a defined benefit system to a defined contribution system.
Those achievements are reminiscent of Scott Walker’s. Romney’s record on regulation was also very good:
He also vetoed a “card check” bill that would allow unions to organize without a secret ballot election. As governor, he often clashed with the knee-jerk anti-business Legislature over his attempts to ease Massachusetts’ regulatory burdens. Though some of his largest undertakings were ultimately crushed by liberal opposition, Governor Romney deserves praise for attempting to change the relationship between government and private enterprise for the better. These efforts include:
* Pushed to revamp the Pacheco Law, a union-backed measure that makes it nearly impossible to privatize or outsource state services
* Aggressively pushed to deregulate Massachusetts’ “Soviet-style” auto insurance industry. Massachusetts is the only state in which the government mandates maximum insurance rates and requires insurers to accept every applicant
* Called for the privatization of the University of Massachusetts medical school
* Proposed measures to eliminate civil service protection for all municipal workers except police and firefighters and exempt low-cost public construction jobs from the state’s wage law
* Proposed easing decades-old state regulations on wetlands
* Proposed easing pricing regulations on Massachusetts retailers
* Signed a bill streamlining the state’s cumbersome permitting process for new businesses
* Eased regulations for brownfield development
* Vetoed a bill limiting the ability of out-of-state wineries to ship directly to Massachusetts consumers, calling the legislation “anti-consumer”
When Romney took office, Massachusetts’s legislature was 85% Democratic. Rather than just trying to get along, Romney battled the Democrats, issuing more than 800 vetoes, the vast majority of which were overridden. Many of those vetoes were not politically popular. For example, he vetoed an increase in the minimum wage, explaining “there’s no question raising the minimum wage excessively causes a loss of jobs.”
The Cato Institute–another commendably purist organization–publishes biannual ratings of America’s governors. These ratings tend to be low, as very few meet Cato’s exacting standards. Still, they are useful for purposes of comparison. In 2006, near the end of Romney’s term, Cato gave him a score of 55 on its fiscal policy report card. Not great? Well, Romney tied Tim Pawlenty in Cato’s ranking system, and scored better than such stalwarts as Haley Barbour, Jeb Bush, John Hoeven and Mitch Daniels.
All of this must be viewed in the context of Romney’s governing a very blue state. Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, he didn’t go native after losing many battles with a Democratic legislature. Moreover, while my emphasis is not on the social issues, Evangelicals For Mitt point out that even in that realm, his record is more conservative than is commonly known:
If you think Bay State Democrats aren’t any different from their Arkansas or Alabama or Tennessee counterparts, try defending traditional marriage or vetoing stem-cell funding up in Boston, as Governor Romney did, and see what they do. But Governor Romney did — in addition to helping turn the economy around, opposing driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants, and defending Catholic Charities’ right to restrict adoptions to man-woman couples.
Taken as a whole, I think it is fair to judge Romney’s record in office “solidly conservative.” Of course, this discussion leaves out Romneycare. That will be the subject of another post.