INDIANAPOLIS –- Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb on Tuesday accused Democratic gubernatorial hopeful John Gregg of embellishing his fiscal record.
Holcomb said Gregg has claimed to have balanced budgets and reformed property taxes under his leadership as Indiana House Speaker from 1996 to 2002.
But the GOP said he failed to make permanent changes to property taxes and turned a $1.7 billion surplus into a $760 million deficit.
"I am not going to let an embellished record stand on its own," Holcomb said, standing in front of a placard that said "we can't afford John Gregg (literally)."
At the end of 2002 – Gregg's last year in office – the state was facing a nearly billion-dollar budget deficit.
Just a few years before the state boasted a $2 billion surplus. Then lawmakers – a Democratic House and a Republican Senate – gave small tax breaks and made one-time appropriations for roads and pension obligations.
A prolonged recession hit after Sept. 11 in which Indiana saw large job losses. Corporate and income taxes lagged.
The state used some budget gimmickry to get through, including delaying tuition support payments to schools. Gov. Frank O'Bannon made some spending cuts and officials used virtually all the state's Rainy Day Fund.
Gov. Mitch Daniels during a few years of his term has also relied on state reserves to balance budgets.
Holcomb criticized Gregg for saying recently that he supports tax cuts but personally opposed an inheritance-tax cut back in 1997 because the cost to Indiana's revenue was too large.
And he said Gregg supported "tweaking" the property-tax system, instead of making permanent reforms.
"His rhetoric doesn't match his record," Holcomb said.
Daniel Altman, communications director for the Gregg campaign, responded by noting that Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and Republican President Pro Tem David Long voted for the 2001 budget being cricitized for spending more than it took in.
"John Gregg has a record of cutting taxes, improving education and balancing the budget. He worked with Hoosiers of all stripes to improve Indiana," he said. "As speaker, he eliminated the inventory tax, cut property taxes and led the House when it was divided 50-50, requiring that every bill have bi-partisan support, and every budget he passed also had the support of a Republican Senate."
Holcomb also deflected Democratic criticism that Republican governor candidate Mike Pence didn't get one law passed during his 12 years in Congress.
Holcomb said Pence was associated with a number of bills and is proud of Pence's record in Washington.
"Records are fair game," he said. "I'm anxious to have that debate."
Altman said Pence consistently tries to take credit for bills he voted against, and has never balanced a budget.
"Hoosiers deserve a real conversation about the candidates and their records, not Washington style talking points from Congressman Pence’s hatchet man," he said.
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