INDIANAPOLIS | Hoosier Democrats are working to capitalize on last week's unusual one-day special session of the Indiana General Assembly that saw a Republican-dominated legislature override a Republican governor's veto to enact a retroactive income tax increase.
In a fundraising email message sent moments after the override vote, the House Democratic caucus blasted the Republican House and Senate leadership and Gov. Mike Pence for fighting among themselves rather than acting to help middle-class Hoosiers.
"This session was all about GOP vs. GOP," they declared. "If you want something done right, elect a Democrat."
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said there was no need for Indiana to "waste" nearly $30,000 bringing lawmakers back to the Statehouse six weeks after adjourning for the year.
"This is the first time that we've actually had a technical corrections day, and you might think it was because we needed to address the three bills vetoed by the governor and we needed to take care of all those errors that were found in this year's new laws," Pelath said.
"Except that there was no technical corrections bill. And we didn’t vote on two of the three bills vetoed by the governor."
Pelath said the veto override suggests at least some Republicans believe Hoosiers should be forced to pay taxes that aren't owed and denied a refund when the error is discovered.
On the other hand, every House Democrat voted to sustain the governor's veto of House Enrolled Act 1546, which legalizes extra tax revenue collected by Pulaski County since 2006 and Jackson County since 2011, even though authorization had expired for the higher tax rates used by both counties to pay for their jails.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the override vote wasn't about intra-Republican fighting but simply a difference of opinion with the first-year governor, adding that "conservative minds can disagree on the best course of action."
"We were in very close contact with the governor over the last four weeks trying to find the right administrative solution," Bosma said. "It was very clear that the administrative solution that was available was unwieldy and much more expensive to state taxpayers than coming in to solve this situation."
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said it's the legislature's "constitutional right and obligation" to override the governor's veto when the two branches of government see things differently.
"The governor took a stand he thought was the right one ... and I understood it," Long said. "We move forward united on almost all other issues, but on this one, we had a disagreement and we thought a pragmatic solution was needed."
Pence refrained from directly criticizing lawmakers for overriding his veto. But his spokeswoman, Christy Denault, seemed eager to distinguish the governor from his Republican colleagues saying, "Hoosiers can be assured that Gov. Pence and his administration will continue to put taxpayers first."
Vetoes by Indiana governors are rare because it takes only a simple majority vote by both chambers to override a veto — the same threshold needed to send a measure to the governor in the first place.
Nevertheless, lawmakers seldom override vetoes in part because prior governors used the tool sparingly. Former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels vetoed 13 measures over eight years and was overridden just twice.
Generally, the administration works with lawmakers while legislation is under consideration to remove objectionable provisions before they reach the governor's desk.