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Has Mike Pence, As governor, Forgotten He's a Fiscal Conservative?

June 15, 2013 in Economics

By Tad DeHaven

Tad DeHaven

When he was a high-ranking conservative Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Mike Pence was a chief critic of Washington’s out-of-control spending and growing debt. Now that he is Indiana’s governor, Pence is dependent on the same federal largesse that he bemoaned. Most Hoosiers would be surprised to know that under Pence’s first budget proposal, federal funds would have accounted for around 35 percent of total state spending.

Indiana state government is not unique in this regard and Pence’s predecessor, Mitch Daniels, was similarly dependent on federal money. Indeed, Daniels signed an executive order on his first day in office creating the state Office of Federal Grants and Procurement (OFGP) to increase Indiana’s take from the federal honey pot.

As a candidate, however, Pence said that he wanted to turn the OFGP into an “office of federalism” that would take a “Thanks, but no thanks” approach to those federal handouts with too many strings attached. Unfortunately, the governor has adopted a convenient “have your cake and eat it too” definition of federalism.

It is not what James Madison had in mind. Nor does it appear the administration will be saying “no thanks” too often given that the Pence budget proposal envisions more than a third of the funds coming from Washington.

The appeal of federal funds to governors is obvious: They get to spend additional money without having to raise taxes on their voters to pay for it. A problem with this arrangement is that it creates a fiscal illusion — state taxpayers perceive the cost of government to be cheaper than it really is. In effect, the federal money and a large part of the annual budget appears to be “free.”

But Hoosiers should be mindful that every dollar Washington sends to Indianapolis is a dollar taken from taxpayers in Indiana and the other states. (The return is actually less than a dollar since the federal bureaucracy takes its cut). The situation is no different when the federal dollars go instead to, say, Sacramento. In addition, economists have found that federal subsidies to the states lead to higher state taxes and spending in the long-run because the federal “seed money” creates a demand for more government.

One could argue that so long as Hoosiers have to send money to Washington, Indiana might as well get a share of the loot. That’s an understandable sentiment, but the blatantly self-serving manner in which the Pence administration goes about distributing the bounty should …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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