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Tax conference features conservative views 

By Seth Morin

Tax reform and tax relief were the focal points of the Tax Competitiveness and Simplification Conference at the Indiana Government Center.

Tax policy experts from Indiana and around the country gathered at the event hosted by Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

Pence said the focus is on how Indiana can create the simplest, fairest, and most competitive tax structure.

Indiana is ranked 10th best in the nation when it comes to tax structures, according to nonpartisan tax foundations, Pence said. However, Indiana also has one of the most complex tax codes in the United States, according to the Progressive Policy Institute.

The governor also said he wanted to bring the best minds from across the state and across the country to "fuel the next decade of tax reform, particularly in the area of tax simplification."

click to enlarge Governor Mike Pence
  • Governor Mike Pence
"A well-designed tax structure should be simple, should be stable, should be transparent, and it should be fair," Pence said. "It should reward hard work, encourage investment and job growth."

And he said it must provide stable revenues for all levels of government but also allow families to keep as much of their income as possible.

"Our state for nearly a decade has made extraordinary progress," Pence said. He added that the state still has plenty of room to grow economically.

"With economic growth comes rising per capita GDP and rising personal income. We need both in Indiana despite all the progress we've made," Pence said.

He said that tax complexities impose real costs on families and millions of Americans should not have to get a law degree in order to do their own taxes.

Arthur Laffer, an economist and an economic adviser to former President Ronald Reagan, discussed tax reform and the elimination of income taxes.

He conducted a study on 11 states that previously did not have income taxes but then enabled them.

"Every single one of those 11 states- no exception- has declined in their share of the overall U.S. economy," he said.

Laffer said state and local officials can only manage to pass income tax rates when they promise the money will be used for schools and public services, such as police and fire, with 50 to 55 percent being spent on education.

But said that in nine of the 11 states in the study, public services actually declined.

He also added that economic growth is the only way for the country - let alone the state - to get rid of income inequality.

But House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said that's the wrong economic policy for Indiana.

"Indiana can do a whole heck of a lot better and this isn't the start," he said. "It starts with going out on the streets and talking to the people with real problems."

Pelath said the governor's tax conference lacked a "diversity of viewpoints." He said the conference was full of "people offering the views that have gotten us to the spot that we are in right now."

"While their heads are up in the clouds of tea party hysteria, let's come back to Earth and look at the real problems," he said.

Pelath presented evidence showing that Indiana has the highest percentage of poverty-level jobs in the region at 11.9 percent.

He also said there is a growing gap between the rich and the rest - with the average income of the top 1 percent at $650,347 and the average income of the bottom 99 percent at an average of $38,941.

He believes that Indiana's growing inequality blocks the middle class from increasing its standard of living and reduces the chances of children moving up the socioeconomic ladder.

Pelath also said that Indiana's average household income has decreased from $53,482 in 2002 to $46,974 in 2013.

"They are clearly on the wrong track because the results speak for themselves," he said.

He said that Democrats have offered alternatives, such as increasing the minimum wage and offering incentives to employers that hire people who have been unemployed for a long period of time.

"We still have people going without healthcare because of how long that debate has taken us; we have a crumbling infrastructure; we have problems with our schools being gutted and our kids not getting the education they need in our traditional classrooms," he said. "These things need to be addressed and they are not being addressed by people who have been brought in from all over the country to talk about the same old 1890s economic ideas."

Pelath said he is fearful that alternative points of view are not being heard because he believes there is more than one way to fix an economy.

"It's fine to listen to those folks," he said, "but they are not the only people to listen to."

Seth Morin is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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