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PATAKI'S FISCAL POLICY EARNS A B, AS IN 'BIG SPENDER'

A conservative think tank Monday complained that New York's Republican Gov. George E. Pataki has become a liberal big spender but gave him a passing grade of B, the same mark it awarded George W. Bush for his final year as governor of Texas.

Bush ranked third nationally, while Pataki was 10th on the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute's biennial fiscal policy report card on governors.

The Cato Institute said Bush's problem is that "he is a politician who seems to always want to keep everyone happy."

Bush's final budget as governor, the institute said, climbed to growth rates not seen since his predecessor, Democrat Ann Richards -- close to 10 percent.

Bush "shoveled a record $2.1 billion of new money into the Texas schools and then proclaimed himself 'the education governor,' " the report said.

A commentary about New York in the institute's report asked, "Will the real George Pataki please stand up?"

"In his first two years in office," the institute wrote, "there was no more fiscally conservative governor in the nation."

"But in the past three years, the statehouse has been occupied by George Pataki, liberal big spender."

The institute said his 1998 and 1999 budgets "grew six times as fast as his first-term budgets. . . . He's infuriated some of his most loyal conservative backers by sponsoring a series of multibillion-dollar bond initiatives for roads and pork barrel environmental projects."

The state is a much more "economically vibrant" place today, the institute said, "but almost all the economic gains occurred under the policies of the old George Pataki, not the new one."

Pataki spokesman Joe Conway said, "More than any other state, we're making record investments in education and health care, resulting in the best credit rating in the last 22 years and the most private sector jobs ever. Gov. Pataki has a well-balanced record that is embraced by the vast majority of New Yorkers."

Pennsylvania's Republican Gov. Tom Ridge ranked 15th, with a grade of B. Former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman of New Jersey, who just became head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, was in 22nd place with a C.

Cato gave two Republican governors a grade of A: Paul Celluci of Massachusetts and Kenny Guinn of Nevada. Democrats Gray Davis of California, Tom Vilsak of Iowa and Oregon's John A. Kitzhaber got F's.

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