House Republicans blocked a vote Thursday on Gov. Mike Pence's proposed tax cut, fending off — at least for now — an attempt by Democrats to force them into the awkward position of rejecting one of the new GOP governor's top legislative priorities amid questions about the cost.
Republicans voted along party lines to keep House Democrats from forcing a vote on the tax cut, citing a procedural rule. The parliamentary politicking came as lawmakers advanced a $30 billion biennial budget that swaps the cut for more spending on schools and roads.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Pence deserves an up-or-down vote on his top priority. But Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, argued that any vote should wait until after lawmakers see an updated estimate this April of how much the state will rake in tax collections.
Pelath made a series of backhanded compliments for Pence as he argued for a vote on the tax cut.
"Our governor was elected for one reason, he supported a 10-percent reduction in Indiana's income tax," Pelath said. "It's one of the best ideas that's been expressed from the second floor."
Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Crothersville, sought to amend the budget to include Pence's tax cut. But Torr relied on a procedural maneuver dubbed "bill pending" which allows lawmakers to block any amendment if the same language is in a bill already filed in a House committee.
House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, submitted the Pence tax cut last month, but never brought it up for consideration in his committee.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly have said they want to see how much money the state will collect in the coming years before signing off on the $500 million tax cut.
"You may very well get a chance to vote on that tax cut the governor has proposed in April, after the April revenue forecast," Torr told Pelath.
The House also rejected Democrats' efforts Thursday to reshape the budget to spend more on schools and offer a progressive tax cut or textbook tax credit to school parents.
Republicans hold a supermajority in the chamber of 69-31.
The House budget still includes much of what Democrats have been seeking, after years of cuts by former Gov. Mitch Daniels. It adds another $200 million more for education than Pence sought and spends $250 million on roads.
House Republican leaders have insisted over the last few weeks that they have not ruled out approving the Pence tax cut, but the budget they drafted makes that cut highly unlikely. Pence has said that he is "disappointed" in the House budget, but acknowledged it's still relatively early in the session, which runs through April 29.
The issue will shift to Senate after House lawmakers take a final vote on the budget next week.