Shocker: Tax-hiking, Govt. Health Care-pushing Ex-Governor Endorses Obama

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported today that former Republican Governor Arne Carlson (Minn.) has endorsed Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's presidential bid. Carlson heralded himself as a "Republican maverick" and hailed Obama as a potentially "truly great president." Tribune staffer Mike Kaszuba failed to label Carlson's ideology, but suggested in the second paragraph of his October 23 article that Carlson saw himself in the lineage of "the moderate philosophies of past Republican leaders such as Ohio Sen. Robert Taft and President Dwight Eisenhower."

Left unmentioned by the Tribune's Mike Kaszuba was that Carlson -- who was governor from 1991 to 1999 -- had a left-of-center record, particularly early in his tenure when he hiked taxes and pushed government-run health care.

From the libertarian Cato Institute's January 1994 Fiscal Policy Report Card, wherein Carlson was given a failing grade of "D" (emphasis mine):

Carlson came to the governor's mansion with a reputation as a moderate Republican, not as a dedicated budget cutter. So far, he has lived up to that reputation. In his first three years, spending in real terms has grown at a respectable rate of less than 3 percent per year. Carlson deserves credit for holding the Democratic legislature to that moderate spending level. But he has created several new spending programs, including a universal health care program called HealthRight, which will cost state taxpayers at least $250 million a year. On the tax side, he has fared worse. The income tax and sales tax have been raised, and tax revenues climbed by $650 per family in his first year alone. Overall, Carlson's fiscal performance has been slightly below average in most categories.

By the end of his term, Carlson had improved some, earning plaudits from Cato for pushing education reforms, but he still earned only a "C" in the 1998 report card (emphases mine)

Arne Carlson's tenure in the statehouse could be called "a tale of two governors." In his first term, during the recession of the early 1990s, Carlson was one of the nation's most taxing governors, having raised both the state sales and income taxes. He also approved a flurry of new expenditures for a costly health care program called "HealthRight," "family services grants," environmental programs, and even $55 million for the Minnesota Timberwolves sports stadium. But in his second term Carlson has proven an effective promoter of pro-growth fiscal, economic, and education policy. Last year Carlson approved the largest tax relief bill ever in Minnesota. The bill cut property taxes by 20 percent, created a $400 million education tax credit, and slashed the state's health care provider tax. However, Carlson supported a 10-cent increase in the cigarette tax to pay for yet another professional sports stadium, this time for the Minnesota Twins, who are threatening to leave the Twin Cities. But a majority of Minnesotans oppose public financing of sports facilities, and that plan was rejected with no immediate solution to the controversy in sight. Carlson's main claim to fame, however, has been as a passionate supporter of school choice for Minnesota parents. Last year, in a high-stakes showdown with the legislature and the education establishment, he promised to veto a $6 billion education-financing bill if it excluded his education tax credit proposal. The legislature finally backed down, and the widely acclaimed tax credit plan is now the law. Minnesota is arguably further along in implementing genuine, innovative education reform than any other state--thanks in large part to Governor Carlson.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters