INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - As Gov. Mike Pence continues building his national
profile with out-of-state travel and announcements of major policies, such
as his proposal to expand Medicaid using a state-run alternative, he is
relying on a campaign-style speech that hits a few key bragging points.
“I want Indiana to continue to be a state that works and help in some small
way to lead this country by our example,” Pence said last week during a trip
to New York City.
But some of the victories Pence is claiming aren’t quite as shiny as the
governor makes them out to be.
For instance, Pence touted Indiana’s decision to abandon the national Common
Core education standards this year, telling his New York audience, “We
became the very first state to take that step.”
It’s true that Pence drew national attention when he signed legislation
formally pulling Indiana from the group of states using national Common Core
education standards. At the time, it looked like a victory for tea partyers
and conservatives who have taken to dubbing the program “ObamaCore” because
of the president’s ardent support of the standards.
But by the time state education leaders released the draft of their new
Indiana education standards, national experts quickly picked up on how much
they resembled the national standards the state had just ditched. Education
experts called in by Pence to review the standards lambasted them. Sandra
Stotsky, a former member of the national committee which drafted Common
Core, called the new Indiana standards Common Core “warmed over.”
Pence also has heralded Indiana’s unemployment rate, which stands at 5.7
percent and continues to track below the national average. But he’s a little
challenged on his geography.
Pence told Fox News Sunday in April that Indiana has “the lowest
unemployment rate in the Midwest,” repeating a claim he’d made a few days
earlier at the Wisconsin Republican Party’s annual convention.
Indiana’s unemployment has certainly dropped sharply since Pence took
office. It’s much better than when the state suffered through the height of
the recession and unemployment hovered above 10 percent.
But Pence’s claim that Indiana’s rate is the best in the Midwest depends on
what definition of Midwest is used. If Indiana is lumped in with the five
eastern-most states in the U.S. Census’ definition of the Midwest, then
Indiana leads the pack, easily beating states like Michigan and Illinois.
But when the rest of the Midwest is added to the equation, Indiana falls to
the middle of the pack, lagging far behind states like North Dakota and
South Dakota, whose rates have hovered around 3 percent thanks to the
continuing oil boom.
Another victory Pence likes to trumpet pertains to tax cuts as he claims
lawmakers passed the “largest state tax cut in Indiana history.” But what he
doesn’t tell audiences is how far removed that cut is from his initial, much
This year marked the second in a row that Pence started with plans for a
sizable tax cut but was rebuffed by lawmakers from his own party. Last year,
Pence made a 10 percent cut in the personal income tax the centerpiece of
his first-year agenda. But by the end of the four-month legislative session,
he was forced to accept a cut about half that size, phased in at a much
slower rate than what he sought. This year, he unveiled plans to eliminate
the state’s tax on business equipment, but had to settle for a watered-down
plan amid opposition from local leaders.
Pence often dubs the first package of cuts “the largest state tax cut in
Indiana history,” but estimates of the package have varied greatly.
Americans for Tax Reform estimated the cuts at $907 million over five years,
while House Speaker Brian Bosma placed them at $1.1 billion.
The title of “largest state tax cut” could easily go to the property tax
caps enacted by voters in 2008 and pushed by state lawmakers and former
Gov., Mitch Daniels. Ball State University economists estimated the effect
of that move at nearly $1.4 billion in a 2010 paper.
A strong contender for the title would also be packages of cuts enacted by
former Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon in 1997 and 1999. Those were worth an
estimated $1.2 billion but were approved in separate budgets over the space
of O’Bannon’s first four-year term.
Pence still has more than two years and at least one more budget to seek
further tax cuts.