Policy

Pence's Tax-Cutting Record Could Help Trump

Ex-congressman may align billionaire with long-standing Republican goals

Mike Pence's congressional experience, economic performance in Indiana and days as a talk radio host could be assets as he stumps for the GOP ticket. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence brings to the Republican ticket a record of tax deals in the Hoosier State that Donald Trump hopes can help him win over the party faithful when it comes to fiscal issues.  

During their first joint TV interview on CBS' "60 Minutes," the presumptive GOP presidential nominee praised his running mate for winning approval of cuts in personal income, corporate and property taxes.  

Pence said in an op-ed column for CNBC last week that Indiana has enacted $3.5 billion in tax relief since he took office in January 2013 — including the largest income-tax cut in state history.  

“I looked at the numbers. Unemployment? What a great job he did. Jobs? What a great job he did. Triple-A rating on his bonds,” Trump said of Pence in the interview that aired Sunday night.

[ Special Coverage: 2016 Republican National Convention ]

Democrats have noted that Pence has differed with Trump in the past on issues such as Muslim migration, free trade and the Iraq war, and that the Indiana governor is not the loose cannon that his running mate can sometimes be.  

"It's probably obvious to people that our styles are different," Pence said in the CBS interview. "But I promise you our vision is exactly the same."  

Former Pennsylvania Rep. Phil English, a lobbyist and former tax writer, said that Pence’s experiences as a governor and a former congressional leader will make him an influential adviser as Trump irons out final details of a new tax plan expected to be unveiled in coming weeks.  

What's more, Pence is also close to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan,  who gave him positive marks before Trump officially tapped him as his vice presidential pick.  

English, a Republican, noted that Pence brings a reputation as “an aggressive tax cutter to the point of being controversial,” but said the governor could find it easier to bridge intra-party differences.  

“Pence has demonstrated he clearly understands how to take half a loaf,” English said  

[ Who's Mike Pence and Why Has Trump Picked Him? ]  

John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said Pence scaled a “steep learning curve” on fiscal issues as governor and relied on his staff.  

He also noted that Pence cut deals that “did not hurt the trends that led to the improved economy,” which began under his predecessor as governor, Mitch Daniels, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the George W. Bush administration.  

Still, Ketzenberger said, Pence would need strong staff support and a clear green light from Trump in order to serve as an intermediary on complex fiscal issues in Congress.  

Richard C. Auxier, a research associate at the Tax Policy Center, a liberal think tank, said Pence gave ground to fit his tax plans into balanced state budgets. Indiana, like most other states, requires its budget to be in balance.  

Some examples of compromise: Pence cemented a 2013 deal that cut Indiana's individual tax rate from 3.4 percent to 3.23 percent over two years, after originally calling for a deeper cut. He also ended the estate tax, instead of leaving in place a gradual phaseout.  

A 2014 accord will lower the corporate rate from 6.5 percent to 4.9 percent by 2021.  

Auxier predicted that Pence would be “a loyal soldier supporting huge tax cuts" if Republicans win back the White House and would not be forced to embrace offsets to pay for them.  

[ Trump and Pence Differences Are a Good Thing, Says Blackburn ]  

Trump's original tax plan, which the campaign says he is retooling, calls for reducing the top individual tax rate to 25 percent (down from 39.6 percent) and a corporate rate of 15 percent for all companies. Congressional Republicans had denounced that plan, in part because of its $9.5 trillion price tag.  

The House GOP tax plan shaped by Ryan and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas  calls for a top individual tax rate of 33 percent, a corporate rate of 20 percent and a new 25 percent tax on profits of S corporations (small businesses who pass profits or losses on directly to shareholders). It would cost $2.4 trillion over 10 years, according to the conservative Tax Foundation, using what's known as a traditional method of budget scoring.  

GOP lawmakers have also urged Trump to move toward longstanding Republican tax goals, such as full expensing of business equipment and a full exemption for foreign corporate profits.  

“What Trump makes clear is that when he makes a tax proposal, it’s only a starting point,” English said.  

Laura Albright, a political scientist at the University of Indianapolis, said that Pence tended to be a champion for the conservative right wing in his home state. “He was more of the extreme. The legislature tends to be a little more moderate,” Albright said, noting Pence's opposition to a GOP plan to raise the state gasoline tax.  

As a national candidate, Albright says Pence's economic performance in Indiana and his days as a former talk radio host could be assets as he stumps for the GOP ticket.  

“He’s calm and reserved. A classic Midwestern guy,” Albright said.

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