By ERIC BRADNER
Evansville Courier & Press
As lawmakers returned to the Statehouse for a single vote last week, their decision to override one of Gov. Mike Pence’s vetoes served to underscore two of the Indiana political landscape’s new realities.
The Republican-dominated General Assembly perceives Pence to sometimes ignore the practicality of his ideological positions and of when he decides to weigh in on issues, and can grow frustrated as a result of that.
And Pence doesn’t seem to care what lawmakers tell him is practical. He appears to have decided he is willing to go down swinging, even when doing so puts him at risk of being cast as politically weak or ineffective.
This was on display last week as lawmakers traveled back to the capitol for a one-day, one-vote meeting. It was the first time they’d ever used their “technical corrections” day to override a veto.
The bill Pence had rejected would have retroactively authorized $6 million worth of local-option income tax collections in Jackson and Pulaski counties.
These weren’t new taxes. They’d been legally authorized at one point, but also contained automatic sunset provisions. Those sunset dates came and went, but no one noticed; county-level officials forgot to reauthorize the taxes and the Indiana Department of Revenue forgot to stop collecting them.
In vetoing the bill, Pence said he considered that taxation unlawful and said those taxpayers should be reimbursed. Legislators, though, said that literally no one in those communities was complaining about the taxes, and that the revenue is being used to pay for the operation of local jails.
State Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee Chairman Brandt Hershman put lawmakers’ take well while discussing the veto override vote on the Senate floor.
“In the day-to-day administration of government, sometimes you have to make judgment calls that are not entirely clear-cut,” said Hershman, R-Lafayette.
In other words, it’s not always practical to take a rigid ideological approach — especially on the state and municipal level, where the issues are often less politically charged but more impactful to residents’ everyday lives.
It was clear from the outset that Pence would lose this battle. House and Senate leaders who, like Pence, are Republicans, were unwilling to budge. They kept their caucuses in line and knew they would win the veto override votes.
Pence might have stood a better chance of getting his way had he raised his complaints sooner. Some lawmakers said they were unaware of the governor’s objections to the local tax bill, and that they’d have acted differently had they known his take.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said he wished the governor would have brought it to lawmakers’ attention earlier.
Still, Pence shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. Many lawmakers admitted that they were unaware of the portion of the bill that affected Jackson and Pulaski counties and that they hadn’t thought of it in the terms Pence expressed. It’s possible — probable — that Pence’s legislative liaisons hadn’t fully examined it until it hit the governor’s desk.
Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said he would have voted against the bill and spoken against it on the House floor as well if he’d fully understood what it contained.
Sometimes, Pence has proved willing to adapt his demands. When Senate leaders made clear that they were not on board with a broad expansion of Indiana’s private school voucher program, Pence embraced a smaller one than he had suggested.
But the pattern of Pence failing to bend his position — even faced by lawmakers who simply would not give him what he wanted — is one Hoosiers have seen several times.
Republican lawmakers took a number of steps during this year’s legislative session to help Pence. For instance, they agreed to help him achieve a portion of his top agenda item by reducing the state’s individual income tax rate by 5 percent over the next four years, even though few lawmakers passionately embraced that idea.
Still, just days before the legislative session ended and hours before that deal was finalized, Pence delivered an Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce speech in which he argued for twice the tax cut in one-third the time.
He knew he wouldn’t get that, and he also knew that arguing for it one last time would place him at greater risk of looking politically weak relative to Republican lawmakers. Yet he did it anyway — because, for better or worse, lawmakers don’t seem to be whom he cares to win over.
— Eric Bradner is the Statehouse reporter for the Evansville Courier & Press.