The Wall Street Journal

  • JUNE 25, 2011

State Republicans are tackling the issues voters want addressed. That will be a major asset for the party’s presidential nominee in 2012.

Democrats say otherwise, but Republican governors and their records will be a major asset to the GOP in 2012. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s monumental achievement this week in passing a bill to reform his state’s public-employee benefits is a prime example. As Gov. Christie said Friday, underfunded pension and health-care obligations are “the core problems of government spending in the country.”

This is the kind of leadership Americans want right now: straight talk about the fiscal mess we’re in and a plan to solve it. The good news is Gov. Christie is not alone among Republican governors.

When I became governor of Virginia in January 2010 we faced two historic budget shortfalls totaling $6 billion. The proposals to close these shortfalls spanned the philosophical spectrum. Shortly before leaving office, my predecessor, outgoing Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine, put forward a massive $1.8 billion income-tax hike as one of his solutions.

I knew that in an economy struggling to recover, raising taxes was a nonstarter. So we set forth on a different path. We balanced Virginia’s books by reducing state spending to 2006 levels, putting in place a hiring freeze in state government, making conservative revenue estimates and incentivizing state employees to save taxpayer dollars. The result was a budget surplus just a few months later.

Since February 2010, 67,400 new jobs have been created in Virginia and our unemployment rate has fallen to 6% from 7.2%. Virginia’s unemployment rate is more than a full three points below the national average and the third-lowest east of the Mississippi. It’s not surprising that a majority of Virginians surveyed now believe the state is headed in the right direction, compared to 31% who think the nation is moving in the right direction.

These results can and will be duplicated in other states. This year, 18 new Republican governors took office, and many confronted budget deficits similar to or worse than what we faced in Virginia last year.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie


In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker plans to sign a budget this weekend that will turn a $3.6 billion deficit into a projected $300 million surplus. Already, the business community has responded favorably. In six months, 25,000 private-sector jobs have been created and 88% of the state’s business leaders say the state is headed in the right direction.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich is on the verge of passing his Jobs Budget, which would close an $8 billion budget deficit while preserving an income tax cut for all Ohioans.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder has reformed the state’s tax structure, eliminating the anticompetitive Michigan Business Tax that taxed gross receipts, and balanced his budget by reducing spending by nearly $1.2 billion.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a record $615 million from the state budget, enacted a corporate income tax cut and added millions to the state’s rainy-day fund. It’s no coincidence that the state’s unemployment rate has dropped every month that he’s been in office.

In politics, it’s not where you are that matters, it’s where you’re headed. My experience in Virginia, along with the similar experiences of leaders like Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Michigan Gov. John Engler, suggest that the hard choices Republican governors have made this year will pay off at the polls.

Look no further than growing and diverse Texas, a state Democrats targeted in 2010, where data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that under Gov. Rick Perry’s leadership the state has created more jobs over the last decade than the rest of the states combined. That’s a record of job creation the Obama administration can only dream about.

Next year President Obama will have to campaign on his record—trillion-dollar deficits, skyrocketing debt and massive tax increases that have failed to adequately rein in unemployment. Meanwhile, Republican governors will have delivered balanced budgets without raising taxes and the entitlement reforms they made will have actually saved jobs.

The low popularity of Democratic governors facing re-election in 2012 tells us quite a bit about how the public regards the policies and work done by the president’s party in the state capitals. The president and the Democratic National Committee have cause for concern. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire announced last week that she would not seek re-election, after being dogged by dismal approval ratings. North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue’s approval rating is bogged down around 30%—not a good sign for the Democratic ticket in a state the Obama campaign has declared a top priority.

There’s a reason that no Republican governor seeking re-election has lost a general election since 2007, while three Democrat governors have fallen in that same period. Voters expect their state executives to make tough decisions with future generations, not weekly polls, in mind. That’s exactly what Republican governors have done and what President Obama has failed to do. And that contrast will make a difference at the ballot box in November 2012, to the advantage of the Republican presidential nominee.

Mr. McDonnell is governor of Virginia and vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association.


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