Gov. Tate Reeves received a mediocre score in a scorecard ranking the nation’s governors on economic policy performance and results during and before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the authors were quick to defend him since he’s been in office for less than a year.
The scorecard, by the non-partisan American Legislative Exchange Council, used 20 different economic factors to grade governors on their performance in office. Reeves was ranked 29th overall among the nation's 50 governors, receiving a 41st ranking on results and a 15th-best ranking on policy.
Reeves is one of two governors who's been in office for a year or less, along with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beashear, a Democrat who ranked 32nd.
The scorecard was authored by former Reagan Administration advisor Arthur Laffer (creator of the Laffer Curve), Donna Arduin, Trump advisor and economist Stephen Moore and ALEC chief economist Jonathan Williams.
“As an independently elected lieutenant governor (Reeves) had a great deal of control over the state’s fiscal situation and budget and scored very high marks there,” said Arduin, the former budget director for several states, including New York, Florida and California. “As governor, we expect him to put those policies into place. He has a little less control now, but we’d like to see him move the state in the direction when he was lieutenant governor.”
Arduin also mentioned that the state could fall behind other states regionally, such as Tennessee, Florida and Texas, because of its tax policy. All three of those states have no state income tax, while Mississippi has a top marginal rate of 5 percent, the same as Alabama and lower than Louisiana (6 percent) and Arkansas (6.6 percent).
Rankings of some of the surrounding states bear this out, as both Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee (7th overall) and Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama (17th overall) ranked much higher than Reeves, with Gov. Asa Hutchison of Arkansas seven spots above Mississippi's first-term governor. All three are Republicans.
Only Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, a Democrat, was ranked lower than Reeves, coming in at 47th.
Williams said there are some factors in Mississippi that provide a "target-rich environment" of policy issues for the Reeves administration.
“Gov. Reeves will do a phenomenal job in Mississippi and he’s just getting his start, but the state faces some big challenges going forward,” Williams said. “Whether you look at historic poverty rates, you look at the size of state government relative to the size of the economy, you look at the public workforce, they’re always one of the highest of any state we measure and what that has meant for public pension liability in the future.”
Williams also mentioned the state’s liability system as a long-term damper on the state’s economy, despite reforms passed during then-Gov. Haley Barbour’s administration.
The most recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce scorecard ranked Mississippi 44th worst in its annual survey of the fairness and reasonableness of state liability system.
Reeves received a 24th-best ranking on tax policy, which is a measure of substantial tax legislation either proposed or enacted over the last two fiscal years.
He received a 12th-best ranking on spending, which the scorecard analyzed each governor’s budget for fiscal year 2021 and, if possible, fiscal 2020 as well.
The scorecard ranked Reeves 28th on CARES Act policy, which measured governors on the severity of their lockdown policies and assessments of the rankings of cases per million, deaths per million and the unemployment increases.
Mississippi’s first-term governor scored 26th on labor policy, which includes public employee raises, right-to-work laws and prevailing wage laws. Reeves signed into law last year a $1,500 pay hike for teachers, which will cost taxpayers an additional $76.9 million annually.
The governor scored 20th on welfare policy, which is a measure of total welfare spending, Medicaid enrollees per 10,000 population and the costs of Medicaid expansion, which Reeves opposes.
Reeves was scored 9th best nationally on education, a measure of school choice participation, National Assessment of Educational Progress scores and per-pupil spending.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas earned top overall honors in the ALEC scorecard, while Democrat Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island was ranked last.
As for the rest of the nation, only one of the top 10 ranked governors, Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, was a Democrat. All of the worst ranked governors are Democrats, except for Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, who was ranked 49th.
Rounding out the top five were Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah.
The rest of the bottom five included Gov. David Ige of Hawaii, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia and Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey. All are Democrats except for Justice.