INDIANAPOLIS | A debate between leaders of the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. Mike Pence over whether Indiana can afford Pence's campaign promise to reduce the state's income tax rate by 10 percent is about to go public in a big way.
Chase Downham, Indiana director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group, announced Thursday that AFP will spend "six figures" next week to rally support for Pence's tax cut. It plans to run television ads in Indianapolis and deploy 40,000 volunteers to other areas of the state to talk about the need for the tax cut and get Hoosiers to demand their state legislators support it.
"We believe this tax cut is critical to keeping our state competitive and growing our economy," Downham said. "We feel that a dollar in the private economy is going to do a whole lot more good than another dollar of government spending."
Pence's proposed 2014-15 state budget reduces the personal income tax rate to 3.06 percent from 3.4 percent, a $750 million reduction in state revenue, and limits spending increases for most state agencies, including education, to 1 percent or less per year.
House Republicans, led by Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, last month approved a budget in House Bill 1001 that increases education spending beyond what the governor requested, but still only to 2009 levels. It also shuffles funding for some state agencies to permit $250 million in new, annual spending on road and bridge improvements.
The House budget does not include the governor's income tax cut, though it does speed up the phaseout of Indiana's inheritance tax. Bosma believes that's probably a better course for the state — even if AFP doesn't like it.
"They've been a close ally of Gov. Pence throughout his career, and I'm very confident they want to see his campaign promise viewed as successful," Bosma said. "Our goal here is to do what's right for the citizens of the state and it's easy to kind of bang a 'Hey, let's cut taxes' drum, but you've got to be sure it's a smart cut and it's sustainable in the long-run, not in an election cycle."
Downham said AFP's efforts on behalf of Pence's tax cut are "not coordinated with the governor's office at all."
Interest groups rarely spend money on television ads trying to influence action at the Legislature, aside from the 2011-12 right-to-work fight. Bosma said he doesn't feel at all threatened or intimidated by AFP after that experience.
"You're looking at a guy that's had death threats, people camped at my front door and participated in millions of dollars of paid advertising on both sides, so my focus will be on making the right decision ... and not succumbing to pressure from one direction or the other," Bosma said.
In its largest previous Indiana campaign, Americans for Prosperity ran television ads criticizing federal spending votes by U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, during Donnelly's successful 2012 run for U.S. Senate against Republican Richard Mourdock.
AFP also spent at least $33 million opposing the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama.
Downham shrugged off a reporter's question asking why AFP doesn't support Democratic candidates, since House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, has been the biggest cheerleader for Pence's tax cut in the House.