Gov. Mike Pence took his push for a 10-percent state income tax cut, coupled with a commitment to spend more on education, to the floor of the Indiana General Assembly Tuesday night, and the approach earned high marks from Columbus-area legislators.
“The governor certainly gave it his best effort to sell the idea of allowing Hoosiers to keep as much of their income as they can, while making sure the state doesn’t spend more money than it takes in. Certainly, he’s sincere and genuine about the idea, and I think at end of day, he’s on the right track,” said state Sen. Johnny Nugent, R-Lawrenceburg, one of three senators who represent Bartholomew County.
Other area legislators, including Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford; Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus; Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour; and Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, generally praised the skill with which Pence delivered his 27-minute State of the State address, and said they believe the governor is wise to stress fiscal responsibility and a commitment to education.
“The content of his speech was excellent,” said Smith. “He touched on everything from the importance of the family, to focusing on our top priority of creating good, high-paying jobs” to keeping control of state spending.
“The speech was wonderful and non-partisan,” Lucas said Tuesday night, saying he sees a 10-percent cut in income taxes as a possibility, but only after diligent study. “You can’t just jump aboard real quick when you’re dealing with a (two-year) budget. We can’t shoot from the hip.”
Steele said Pence was “surprisingly relaxed for a first-time State of the State speaker, and very cordial. He was properly fixated on a balanced budget.”
Pence, a Columbus native and a longtime Indiana representative in Washington, must be happy to be away from the nation’s capital and dealing with fellow politicians “who live in the real world and understand that money is finite,” Steele quipped.
On education, Steele said he generally supports a Pence proposal to expand vouchers to allow students and their parents to shop for the best education with state dollars as long as public schools aren’t harmed.
“I’d say charter schools and the voucher system seem to be working,” Steele said. “There is nothing wrong with competition. It raises all of us to a higher standard.”
Smith agreed, saying he supports “looking at opening up the state voucher program” so that more students and their parents can have school choice. “We choose where to shop, where to buy cars, why not where we go to school?”
On taxes, Smith remained adamant that the assembly needs to scrutinize the state’s fiscal condition in the spring before cutting taxes.
“The last thing I want to do is have a one-year tax cut, and then have to come back and raise taxes in the second year,” he said.
Most legislators praised Pence for focusing much of his remarks on jobs and job training.
“Without question, our new governor’s remarks were so sincere and all business. I was glad he stressed the idea of saying job creation is job one. His ideas are fresh, inspiring,” Nugent said.
Lucas, a freshman representative in District 69, said he wants legislators to be wise about how they spend taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars, whether it’s for education or taking steps to create jobs.
On education, Lucas said pre-kindergarten programs for young children, and improved vocational programs touted by the governor in his speech are great ideas if they’re delivered in a focused way and provide results.
“I want to go into it with an open mind, because I want to make sure we are getting the best value for the dollar,” Lucas said of Pence’s education funding plans.
Eberhart was noncommittal on the 10-percent tax cut proposal being pushed by Pence as a way to provide Hoosiers with tax relief and aid 92 percent of small business owners in the state, who pay personal income tax rates on what their businesses make.
“It’s a good idea on the surface — who doesn’t want a tax cut,” Eberhart said. “But we’ve worked long and hard to get where we are.” He cautioned against a rush to judgment on the issue.
For his part, Pence argued that Indiana can afford a 10-percent income tax cut over two years, saying it would put $500 million a year back into the private economy.
The governor said the tax cut would make Indiana the lowest-taxed state in the Midwest, adding that such a slogan should be printed on welcome signs at the state’s borders.
On early childhood education, Pence praised his hometown of Columbus, giving special mention to Busy Bees Academy, which serves at-risk children. Pence called it an example of “innovative, community-driven” programs that work.
On taxes, Pence said:
“Hoosiers work hard. They labor in a tough economy. They save and invest in their families and businesses and family farms. Why wouldn’t we want them to keep more of what they earn? I know there are some who say we have to choose between letting the people of Indiana keep more of their hard-earned dollars and meeting the state’s priorities. But our budget clearly shows, we can do both.”