With a divided Congress and deeply partisan president in the White House, gridlock within the Beltway seems as unavoidable as their legendary traffic jams. Yet throughout the country, Republicans hold strong majorities across much of the nation. They now must answer a crucial question: What will they do with their power? Will they play safe and float along with the status quo or will they advance a ground breaking, prosperity creating free market agenda that gets their economies growing again? The answer may very well determine the GOP's future.
A prime example is playing out in Indiana where Governor Mike Pence has put forward a bold proposal to keep spending down while including a 10 percent tax cut for all Hoosiers. Republicans hold super-majorities in both state legislative chambers. They sit atop a $500 million annual budget surplus. One would assume the tax cut and lower spending approach would be a done deal. Sadly, that is not the case.
Last week I stood at the capitol in Indianapolis with our Americans for Prosperity state director, Chase Downham, and a number of our grassroots activists as we endorsed Governor Pence's plan and urged legislative Republicans to pass it immediately. Candidly, the rather cool response from these self-described 'conservative' Republicans was instructive of why we must maintain a strong conservative movement to hold Republicans accountable for keeping their promises once they win election and hold majorities.
The GOP Speaker of the statehouse, Brian Bosma, told USA Today, "It's easy to kind of bang a 'Hey, let's cut taxes' drum, but you have to make sure it's a smart cut and it's sustainable in the long run." Translation? “Now that we have all this taxpayer money, we really, really don’t want to give it back.”
Lawmakers from both parties are suggesting Pence’s budget underfunds schools and roads, but the fact is that the Pence budget actually increases spending over the previous fiscal year in both categories. He proposes to spend $100 million more on education and $200 million extra on roads. It's just that Speaker Bosma's budget calls for $650 million more in spending than Pence’s budget and they believe the Governor's modest increases are just not big enough. It’s worth noting that Indiana already spends more on both of those items than most of the Midwest. Tellingly, this government spending has not translated into greater economic growth for Indiana versus its neighbors over this period.
Meanwhile the Left is doubling down on its big government ideology in states they hold. California, the paragon of liberal virtue, is enacting tax increases at a dizzying rate on anyone and anything that moves or breathes while continuing to pile on environmental regulations and coddling prosperity-destroying government employee unions. Illinois, in even worse shape than California after a decade of crazed liberal taxing and spending is even now moving to pass higher taxes along with more 'investments' in new government programs.
Republicans must move just as boldly in the other direction in states where they hold power like North Carolina where the courageous State Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger is pushing for a complete phase out of the state income tax but running into opposition from within his own party.
At Americans for Prosperity we are determined to force the issue by holding the GOP accountable. In Indiana, we have launched a half a million dollar effort to generate grassroots encouragement on Republican legislators using television and radio ads, social media blitzes, town hall meetings, rallies, and even door-to-door action and telephone banks. We are executing similar efforts in North Carolina and will be adding more states in coming days.
We are determined not allow a repeat of the George W. Bush years when a Republican president and Republican majorities in Congress drove up government spending and created new government bureaucracies and entitlements without facing well organized, well-funded and innovative opposition from a massive state-based grassroots movement that is committed to economic freedom and accountability from both parties.