Fact Check: Which Republican candidates actually cut spending?

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

Every Republican presidential candidate has promised to keep government spending in check -- but which ones actually have a track record of doing that?

All say they would cut. In the last debate, Jeb Bush said people in Florida called him "Veto-Corleone" because he vetoed so much spending. Mike Huckabee said the federal government "is not too big to shrink." Chris Christie says he "balanced budgets."

Is it true? There are an almost infinite number of ways that records can be spun. Some focus on cuts in one small program or on small tax cuts. But governors have actual records. So what do they show?

The "Stossel" show crunched the numbers on that -- adjusting them for inflation and population growth. Here's what the data on governors and ex-governors show:

The chart above shows that Bush cut spending the most. Though he's criticized by conservatives as "too moderate," the former Florida governor cut spending by an average of 1.39 percent each year he was in office. Most cuts came from "public assistance," higher education, and state discretionary spending.

But the above chart isn't perfect for comparing candidates, because governors serve terms in very different time periods. Some served during recessions, when most states must cut spending.

We adjusted for that by doing another comparison -- how much each governor spent compared with other governors in office at that same time:


This chart, at right, shows that Bush was indeed the biggest budget cutter. During his tenure, Florida's spending shrunk by 3.6 percentage points more than the average. He cut spending by 1.39 percent per year in his state, while other states increased theirs by 2.3 percent during that same period. Kasich was also conservative by this measure, cutting spending 1.76 percentage points more than other states did.

But both charts show spending grew by the most under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee.

Asked for comment, a Huckabee spokeswoman said: "Having had to face the most Democrat legislature in the country, and a state controlled almost entirely by the Clinton Political Machine, Governor Huckabee is proud of his record of cutting taxes almost 100 times and leaving Arkansas with an almost $1 billion surplus."

Still, if a tax cut isn't accompanied by a fall in government spending, then taxes may have to go up in the future to pay for that.

Christie's spokesman said the growth of the budget under the Garden State governor is mostly driven by state entitlements, which the governor has little control over, and that he has cut the "discretionary" parts of the budget:

"When you scratch below the surface, the governor's fiscal discipline over the budget is more dramatic, with discretionary spending cut to $2.3 billion below where it was in 2008 [a 9 percent cut.] Non-discretionary spending in public employee entitlements and debt service have driven spending and we continue working to reform these programs and control those costs."

Christie's spokesman also notes, "Governor Christie has done this with a legislature controlled overwhelmingly by Democrats."

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's spokesman also said that entitlement spending made up most of the budget increases under Walker.

But Florida's entitlement spending also increased. Yet Bush made cuts in other areas deep enough to overtake that.

Kasich's spokesman said the chart shows the governor's good record.

"The governor has worked hard to manage the state efficiently, to rein in costs and to cut taxes, and as a result, the state workforce is the lowest it's been in 30 years," Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said.

The senators running for president have no precise budget track record to nail down, but there are ratings that indicate whether they were fiscally conservative or reckless. The National Taxpayers' Union gives Texas Sen. Ted Cruz a 95 percent rating, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul 94 percent, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio 87 percent. Citizens Against Government Waste gives them all 100's -- putting them among the top 9 out of 100 senators when it comes to spending less.

DATA SOURCE: Raw spending data is from the National Association of State Budget Officers and includes all forms of state government spending, excluding federal grants and bond purchases. The data go through FY2014. The spending data were adjusted for inflation and population using BLS and Census data. 

For more election analysis, tune in to "Stossel" Friday at 8 p.m. on Fox Business Network. 

John Stossel is the host of "Stossel" and is on Twitter at @FBNStossel. Maxim Lott is a Fox News producer and is on Twitter at @MaximLott