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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, October 14, 2018 1:00 am

Tax-cut advocates unimpressed with Holcomb

BRIAN FRANCISCO and NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

Gov. Eric Holcomb scored poorly on a biennial report last week rating the fiscal policy of America's governors.

Holcomb joined 13 other governors with a D, according to the Cato Institute. The report uses statistics to grade the governors on their taxing and spending records from a limited-government perspective.

Five governors received the highest grade of A: Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Henry McMaster of South Carolina, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Paul LePage of Maine and Greg Abbott of Texas.

Eight governors received the lowest grade of F: Roy Cooper of North Carolina, John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Jim Justice of West Virginia, David Ige of Hawaii, Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington.

According to the report, Holcomb in 2017 signed a large transportation bill that increased the state's gasoline tax from 18 cents to 28 cents per gallon and imposed new fees on vehicle owners. The fees included a new $15 vehicle registration fee, a $50 fee for hybrid car owners and a $150 fee for electric car owners. The bill will raise about $700 million annually.

In 2018, Holcomb signed further tax measures into law, the report said. These included cutting sales taxes on software and increasing income taxes by conforming the state code to changes under the 2017 federal tax law.

The report card looks at data since 2016 for each state and awards a grade based on spending variables, a revenue variable and tax rate variables. Governors who have cut taxes and spending the most receive the highest grades, while those who have increased taxes and spending the most receive the lowest grades.

GOP fires up 3rd District base

National political analysts say Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Banks is a safe bet for re-election in northeast Indiana's 3rd Congressional District, which has elected GOP candidates continuously since 1994.

But local Republicans seem to be taking Banks' Democratic challenger, Courtney Tritch, more seriously.

At a Tuesday caucus to fill a state Senate vacancy, Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine previewed a meeting the following day in which he said party activists would get their “marching orders” for the Nov. 6 general election.

“I want to assure you that the Democrats don't have a Tommy Schrader running again” for Congress, Shine said about the unfunded perennial candidate whom Banks easily defeated in 2016.

Democrats “are very well organized. Do not close your eyes to that. We need to energize,” Shine told the audience at GOP headquarters in downtown Fort Wayne.

Three election rating groups – Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Sabato's Crystal Ball – regard the 3rd District as safe for Banks, as does statistical analysis website FiveThirtyEight, which predicts he will receive 61.6 percent of the vote. Banks got 70 percent of the vote two years ago in winning a three-candidate race.

Tuesday's caucus elected Allen County Councilman Justin Busch to replace retiring state Sen. David Long in District 16. During his victory speech, Busch endorsed former Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries as his replacement on the council, which prompted applause from precinct officials. 

Shine told Political Notebook that a GOP caucus to fill the at-large council vacancy likely will be scheduled in mid-November.

Endorsements

Political endorsements announced last week include:

• The Alliance for Retired Americans endorsed the re-election bid of Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly. The organization said it has 132,000 members in Indiana. 

• The Indiana Manufacturers Association endorsed Mike Braun, Donnelly's Republican challenger. The association says it represents more than 1,400 companies.

Hoosier lands role in administration

The volunteer staffer for President Donald Trump who blocked a news photographer's camera lens during an August campaign rally in Evansville apparently has a new job – for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Michigan City native Nick Barbknecht updated his LinkedIn page recently to say he is adviser for intergovernmental affairs for the agency. He formerly was a strategist for Majority Strategies, a consulting firm associated with Republicans.

Barbknecht is a 2013 Manchester University graduate who has worked for Indiana's Transportation and Labor departments and was LaPorte County Republican chairman in 2017. He reportedly is married to a staffer for Vice President Mike Pence.

Barbknecht managed the re-election campaign of former Fort Wayne City Council member Mitch Harper in 2011. Harper, if you recall, was shown on national TV tugging on a protester's banner during Trump's speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Brian Francisco at bfrancisco@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.