Briggs: Voters don't care about abolishing Indiana's income tax

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Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch's distant second-place finish in the Republican gubernatorial primary this month was a defeat for abolishing Indiana's income tax. It is also a warning to other Republicans that the potential rewards are not worth the risks.

Crouch ran on a promise to ax the state's 3.05% income tax by the end of her first term while deferring to some future commission on what to do about the $7 billion to $8 billion Indiana receives per year in income tax revenue. Details aside, Crouch bet that her headline campaign promise would be wildly popular and help increase her name identification.

It turns out, though, that Indiana voters don't hate the income tax and aren't motivated to make it a top issue. Actually, Hoosiers feel kind of … good … about the income tax.

Ball State University included the income tax in its annual Hoosier Survey released in January. More than 60% of respondents rated the income tax between "fair" and "very fair," making it the state's second-most accepted tax behind taxes on cigarettes and beer.

Hoosiers view the sales tax, gas tax and motor vehicle tax as less fair than the income tax.

To the direct question of abolishing the income tax, Indiana residents support the idea — kind of.

About 35% favor eliminating the income tax, 30% oppose it and 35% don't know, according to the Hoosier Survey. That is weak support when you consider that respondents received no information about what the loss of the state’s second-largest tax revenue source might mean for their communities.

The high share of "don't know" answers show people would like to know more before even committing to a no-stakes poll question. Support could wane when people start learning about specific services (schools, roads and libraries, for example) and amenities that might see cuts as Indiana becomes a cheaper place to live.

Indiana republican gubernatorial candidate Suzanne Crouch gives remarks conceding in the republican governor nomination to Mike Braun, May 7, 2024, at The Industry in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Indiana republican gubernatorial candidate Suzanne Crouch gives remarks conceding in the republican governor nomination to Mike Braun, May 7, 2024, at The Industry in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Hoosier Survey also found that just 40% of residents favor lowering taxes at the expense of decreasing services, which makes sense when you consider that voters regularly raise their own taxes through referenda to pay for new services.

The ax-the-tax movement didn't start with Crouch. Some Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly still want to eliminate the income tax, arguing that it would make Indiana more attractive to prospective residents.

It's not that people are clamoring for this. It's that Indiana Republicans are just running out of taxes to cut and they have to promise something.

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But the combination of Crouch's failed gubernatorial campaign and limited polling show little political upside to pushing the idea forward. If Republicans do it anyway, they'll achieve a victory with lukewarm favorability and unknown consequences.

As I wrote in February, Republicans in other states have lost their grip on power by going too far. The most dramatic recent example happened in Kansas when then-Gov. Sam Brownback eliminated taxes to the point that residents saw major divestment in education and infrastructure. By 2018, Democrat Laura Kelly won the Kansas gubernatorial election and then won reelection in 2022.

Indiana Republicans don't stand to reap much credit for abolishing the income tax, but they will get plenty of blame if it goes poorly. Indiana already has the fourth-lowest income tax in the nation. At this point, the marginal costs of deeper revenue cuts exceed the marginal political benefits of solidifying conservative bona fides.

The Indiana Republican Party should be wary of making sweeping policy changes in the absence of necessity or popular will. That is a sign of decadence, a precursor to decay.

Contact James Briggs at 317-444-4732 or Follow him on X and Threads at @JamesEBriggs.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Suzanne Crouch wanted to ax Indiana's Income tax. Voters yawned.