Pence’s Indiana record more complicated than he says


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Mike Pence’s speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night touted the Indiana governor’s record on jobs, tax cuts, infrastructure and school funding — all accomplished, he says, while balancing the state’s budget.

But while many of the vice presidential nominee’s statements are technically true, the context of the claims shows a more complicated picture of his handling of Indiana’s economy.

Here’s a closer look at some of the claims Pence made about his one term as governor:

___

TAX CUTS AND BALANCED BUDGETS

“In my home state of Indiana we prove every day that you can build a growing economy on balanced budgets, low taxes,” Pence said, addressing the Republican convention.

While true, Pence’s claims about balancing budgets and lowering taxes aren’t much to brag about.

His biggest contribution to “low taxes” was a reduction of Indiana’s income-tax rate from 3.4 percent to 3.3 percent last year — a savings of about $50 a year for someone with $50,000 in taxable income.

Whether the cuts do much to boost the Indiana economy is uncertain, said Purdue University economist Larry DeBoer, who has studied Indiana tax policy for about 30 years.

And while Pence has balanced the state’s budget, all states with the exception of Vermont have some legal requirement to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

For example, the Indiana Constitution largely bans the state from incurring debt, except for in times of war.

Still, that existing requirement didn’t dissuade Pence from seeking a balanced budget amendment to the state’s constitution in 2015.

Democrats ridiculed the idea and even some Republicans were dismissive, including Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, who referred to the amendment as “more of a footnote, really.”

___

JOBS

“There are more Hoosiers going to work than ever before,” the governor said Wednesday night in Cleveland.

While that’s true, the state’s population also has reached record levels. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Indiana’s population has grown nearly 9 percent, or about 540,000 people, since 2000 to some 6.6 million residents in 2015.

Indiana’s jobless rate was 8 percent when he took office in January 2013 and was 5 percent in May, the most recent month available. But that improvement started long before Pence became governor as Indiana’s unemployment mark topped out at 10.9 percent in early 2010 amid the Great Recession. Indiana’s jobless rate over that time has also largely paralleled the national mark, which was 4.7 percent in May.

___

ROADS

Pence also said Indiana has made “record investments” in roads.

In fact, improving Indiana’s roads wasn’t a priority of Pence’s until it became a liability: a monthlong traffic snarl caused when an Interstate 65 bridge was closed last August for emergency repairs.

Motorists were detoured, traffic backed up and Democrats attacked. A brutal labor union-sponsored TV spot aired during an Indianapolis Colts game blaming a handful of roadway deaths on Pence’s desire to build a budget surplus at the expense of properly funding infrastructure.

Weeks later, Pence proposed a road improvement plan that relied on borrowing, drawing down state reserves and accounting gimmicks to reach an advertised $1 billion sticker price.

In the end, he got just a fraction of that after Indiana’s Republican-controlled Legislature balked. And much of the money set aside for local governments came from local taxes held in state reserves that were already supposed to be returned.

___

SCHOOL FUNDING

Another record Pence highlighted was an increase in education funding he signed into law.

When simply looking at dollars, Indiana’s current state budget does give the largest school funding increase. The two-year budget spends about $480 million more toward K-12 education.

But that amounts to just a 2.3 percent increase for education. Between 2000 and 2008, the increase averaged about 2.7 percent a year — although the total dollars were much lower because local taxes covered a greater portion of school budgets at the time, DeBoer said.