The upcoming week undoubtedly will yield a plethora of articles on Donald Trump and VP pick Gov. Mike Pence’s differences and similarities. From a tax policy perspective, a review of the Indiana governor’s record reveals he and Donald Trump are on the same page.
Whether in his current position as governor of Indiana or as a member of the House of Representatives for more than a decade, Pence (who is a devotee of Arthur Laffer and has signed Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge) has fought time and again to enact extremely regressive and unaffordable tax cuts.
He has been a longtime advocate of the discredited supply-side economic policies that purport tax cuts for the rich will generate rapid economic growth. In one particularly telling television appearance in 2010, Pence made the bizarre claim that raising income tax rates would “actually reduce federal revenues,” a claim that the fact checkers at PolitiFact rated as simply “False.”
In picking Pence, Donald Trump has chosen someone whose tax policy positions fall in line with his recent tax policy declarations. While Trump has been inconsistent on tax policy in the past, his most recent tax plan would cut taxes by $12 trillion over the next decade and direct 70 percent of that tax cut to the top 20 percent of taxpayers, a skewed tax policy approach that Pence’s record indicates he would support.
Member of the House of Representatives
As a member of the House of Representatives from 2001-2012, Pence advocated and voted for a series of unaffordable tax cuts for the wealthy. For example, Pence earned an “F” on CTJ’s 2006 congressional tax policy scorecard for his votes for the extremely costly and regressive Bush tax cuts as well as an additional measure that would have repealed the very progressive federal estate tax.
Building on this, when the Bush tax cuts expired in 2010 and at the end of 2012, Pence fought to have those tax cuts fully extended, even though they would be twice as costly in the second decade as they were in the first. When pressed about the huge unpaid for cost of the tax cuts, Pence resorted to supply-side rhetoric saying that revenue would in fact expand as the economy expands due to the tax cuts. Unfortunately, Pence and congressional Republicans largely got their way in 2013 when Congress passed a tax deal that made 85 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent. In other words, Pence not only advocated for tax cuts for the rich, he was part of a majority of representatives who passed them into law.
Besides his support for the Bush tax cuts, Pence also supported a series of other extremely regressive tax cuts. Mostly strikingly, Pence repeatedly co-sponsored the radically regressive “Fair Tax Act,” a bill that would replace the entire federal tax system with a national sales tax. According to an analysis of this plan by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a national sales tax would raise taxes on the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers by an average of $3,200 a year, while cutting taxes by an average of $225,000 annually for the top 1 percent.
In addition, Pence has been a vocal opponent of the capital gains tax, which is overwhelmingly paid by the wealthiest Americans. To this end, Pence was the lead sponsor of legislation in 2003 that would have cut the capital gains tax from its already low rate of 15 percent at the time to 10 percent. A few years later, Pence sponsored another piece of legislation that would have allowed a partial exemption for capital gains income based on inflation that had taken place since the asset’s purchase.
Pence’s last notable position on federal tax policy was his staunch opposition to any legislation supporting clean energy and reducing fossil fuel emissions. For instance, Pence repeatedly voted against measures that would have ended tax subsidies for oil and gas companies. More broadly, Pence strongly opposed any kind of carbon tax or cap-and-trade legislation and called 2009 cap-and-trade legislation an “economic declaration of war.”
Governor of Indiana
Following very much in line with his time in the House of Representatives, Pence made a huge cut in the state’s income tax one of the main planks of his platform when running for governor of Indiana in 2012. An ITEP analysis of his campaign tax proposal found that it would have cost the state as much as $453 million a year, while cutting taxes on average by $2,264 for the top one percent and only $102 for the middle 20 percent of taxpayers.
After Hoosiers elected him governor, Pence failed to muster the political will to pass a tax cut as large as the one he proposed during his campaign. Still, he pushed through a tax cut in 2013 with an annual price tag of $250 million, roughly half the size of his original plan. At the time, an ITEP analysis found the plan would overwhelmingly benefit the top 1 percent of taxpayers. In addition, the legislation accelerated the repeal of the state’s progressive inheritance tax. In other words, Pence supported tax cuts that not only deprived Indiana of sorely needed revenue, but also further cemented Indiana’s status as one of the states with the most regressive tax systems in the country.
In 2014, Pence pledged to make additional tax code changes his priority for that year during a conference that also included speakers like the infamous anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist and the father of supply-side economics himself, Arthur Laffer. Pence’s push for tax cuts that time took aim at the corporate income tax rate and business personal property taxes. Ultimately, the legislature passed and Pence signed into law a cut in the corporate tax rate from 6.5 to 4.9 percent and another measure that allowed counties to cut business personal property taxes. Given the progressivity of corporate taxes, this cut further increased the regressivity of the state’s tax system and reduced much-needed revenues.
In 2016, many Republican lawmakers in Indiana pushed for raising the state’s gas and cigarette taxes as a fiscally prudent, though regressive, move to shore up the state’s transportation funding. Rather than allow for the possibility of new revenues, however, Pence and state lawmakers eventually passed legislation that depended on merely shifting revenue, including transferring ‘surplus’ revenue from the state’s general revenue fund to the state highway fund. The practical result of this shell game will be more funding for infrastructure, but only at the expense of less funding for other areas of the budget such as education and health.
Pence’s decision to join Trump on the presidential ticket might actually be good news for tax fairness in Indiana since he will no longer be able to run for a second term as governor and continue to push aggressively for more regressive tax cuts. The bad news is that Trump and Pence are on the same page when it comes to regressive, trickle-down tax policies. Given the nation’s current budget situation, it can ill afford tax cuts for the very rich or supply-side tax experiments that falsely promise long-term economic gains for the masses in exchange for huge tax cuts for the rich today.