IT'S hard to recall there was ever a time when fiscal conservatives nationwide saw New York's Gov. Pataki as a rising political star. Elected on a promise to cut taxes, Pataki delivered early in his first term, slicing the top state income-tax rate by 25 percent and reducing the capital gains and inheritance taxes, too. He even succeeded in cutting government spending.
But soon Pataki was raising taxes and hiking spending at rates that would make Nelson Rockefeller and Mario Cuomo smile. The same conservatives who had earlier cheered him were left scratching their heads, wondering: What happened to George?
Starting with his second term, however, Pataki's fiscal schizophrenia began to set in. (Is there something in the water in Albany?) Pataki proposed all sorts of awful policies, such as a multibillion-dollar bond initiative for roads and pork-barrel environmental projects. He hiked cigarette taxes and proposed over $3 billion in overall tax increases by 2005. The state budget exploded, too, growing by 76 percent since his first day in office - almost twice the growth of population plus inflation.
This year, Pataki has tried to convince people that the tax-cutter they knew and loved was back by proposing income-tax-rate cuts for the first time in almost a decade.
And those pathetic tax cuts are the good news. On the spending side, Pataki remained a lover of big government. His fiscal 2007 budget proposal expanded state government spending by 7 percent, the biggest proposed increase since 1995.
Perhaps Pataki's recent tax-cut proposals were simply an attempt to end his mostly disappointing governorship on a high note. Or, with his presidential aspirations altogether apparent, maybe it was simply a bid to convince the small-government advocates who vote in GOP primaries that he's still one of them.
Sorry to be so text heavy there, but there's too much good rhetoric to find things to cut.
Here's what we like about Pataki. Big state Governor, can raise the money, has a great team on the ground in Iowa. But they've got a lot to overcome. Pataki is unpopular at home and pro-choice. The Pataki folks have been forced to hold up the shiny object that is tax cuts in conservatives eyes. But according to CATO that shiny object might really be a house of cards.