Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has made no secret that his Christian faith is critical to his identity, but he may be relying on his faith more than ever before in his challenging new political role.
On Tuesday morning, the Republican Pence greeted a bipartisan audience of legislators and other participants at the Indiana Leadership Prayer Breakfast with a reminder that there are “no politics in prayer.”
But after spending his first eight weeks in office locked in an intra-party fight with legislators over his signature campaign promise as he transitions from Congress to the Statehouse, politics may be impacting his prayers.
During a lunchtime briefing with Statehouse reporters Tuesday, Pence described his short time in the governor’s office as an “extraordinary couple of months” and “fundamentally different” than his six terms in Congress.
“The only way my prayer life has changed in the last few months is in its frequency,” Pence said, in a response to a question about his faith. “A little more frequent. It is where I draw my strength.”
Pence pledged to stay strong on his top legislative priority: getting a 10 percent reduction in Indiana’s personal income tax rate written into the budget bill that’s now moving through the General Assembly.
But he's yet to lock down the support of Republican legislative leaders, whom Pence expected to be his allies.
“It’s fundamentally different,” is how Pence described his new role as executive. “Our state’s founders and our nation’s founders designed a system of limited government that has checks and balances and it’s been fascinating for me to be on the other side of that check and balance,” he said.
Fascinating but not easy. Republicans who control the Statehouse have so far rejected his tax cut plan, calling unsustainable the $500 million hit it would take on state revenues annually.
The House-approved budget bill, now in the Senate, doesn’t contain the tax cut and spends more of the state’s $2 billion surplus instead on roads and schools.
Facing that opposition, Pence has taken his tax cut plea to the people, traveling the state to convince voters to pressure legislators to put his tax cut back into the budget.
“I am strongly committed to taking a portion of Indiana’s historic surplus and providing across-the-board income tax relief for every Hoosier,” Pence said, repeating part of the message he’s taken on the road.
Under Pence’s plan, the income tax rate would drop from 3.4 percent to 3.06 percent. The average Hoosier’s taxes would fall only by about $100. Pence said the amount may be small but collectively has impact.
“The issue is not about whether the money would get spent, it’s about who would spend it better,” Pence said, adding: “I think people would spend it better and more efficiently and more wisely in the economy, in ways that will create growth and opportunity better than any government ever will.”
It’s an argument that hasn’t resonated with the fiscally conservative Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly, who question the wisdom of cutting more taxes, after a series of tax cuts they’ve made in recent years.
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said his priorities are more focused on ensuring fiscal stability and less on granting Pence his campaign promise. Bosma recently told the Wall Street Journal: “My encouragement to everyone is to look at long-term sustainability and not just an election cycle.”
Pence declined to answer a question about whether he’d veto a budget bill that doesn’t include his tax cut, repeating instead his comments that he’s “strongly committed” to plan.
“Having been a working legislator, I continue to be optimistic we’re going to work this out,” Pence said. “It’s going to be a win for Hoosiers.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org