Jacobs said a combination of lagging revenues because of the recession and Pawlenty's staunch opposition to raising taxes led to the $5 billion projected budget deficit for the next biennium that Pawlenty left to his successor when he departed office in January 2011.
"He did everything he could to prevent raising new revenue," Jacobs said. "The state had a rainy day fund that was spent and money from a settlement with tobacco companies that was spent. He certainly gets credit for blocking new state taxes and the rate of spending slowed down."
Conversely, during Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's tenure from 2003 to 2007, he petitioned the S&P credit rating agency to increase his state's credit rating from AA- to AA, which they did in 2005, according to a report obtained by Politico.
"Over the last few years, Massachusetts has taken certain actions that have reduced budget uncertainty, reined in spending, and prudently managed resources during a difficult national economic slowdown," Standard & Poor's said in the March 2005 report according to Politico.
But the credit upgrade did not come without a cost. In 2002 Massachusetts raised more than $1 billion in additional tax revenue and in 2004 the state increased fees such as those for drivers' licenses, raising an additional $271 million annually, according to the report.
In Thursday night's Fox News debate, the two Minnesotans sparred over tax increases. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann attacked Pawlenty for raising cigarette taxes from 48 cents per pack to $1.50 during his tenure.
"I did agree to the cigarette fee," Pawlenty said in the debate. "I regretted that. The courts held it to be a fee. But nevertheless it was an increase in revenue."
Perry has also taken heat for his tax policies. During Perry's 2010 primary battle, opponent Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison accused the governor of raising taxes on businesses by creating a 1 percent margins tax on business receipts.
Perry countered that he had, in fact, lowered business taxes by eliminating the 4.5 percent franchise tax in favor of the lower margins tax. And while at face value the tax rate did decrease, revenue increased. According to the Austin American Statesman, revenue from the franchise tax was $5.8 billion in 2006 and 2007. But in the first two years under the margin tax revenue rose to $8.7 billion.
"I think Perry's margin tax in Texas is a destructive type of tax," said Joseph Henchman, the vice president of state projects for the Tax Foundation. "You have taxes being levied on taxes based on how many levels of production a product has. It basically encourages people to form conglomerates purely for tax reasons which is economically destructive. You have these taxes pyramiding on each other so the effective rate is higher."
In his four years has the governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009, Jon Huntsman simplified the Utah tax code by swapping a six-bracket income tax system for one 5 percent flat tax.
"Huntsman's flat tax achievement is an achievement," Henchman said. "It reduced complexity and it made it a much more growth-friendly tax system."
Henchman said former Romney is the only GOP candidate who saw income taxes decrease while he was in office, albeit slightly, from 5.6 percent when he took office in 2003 to 5.3 percent by the time he left in 2007.