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Fact check: Pence stretches truth with claims

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TOM LoBIANCO

Associated Press

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 loftier proposals.

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.

 

 

Posted 5/19/2014