Gov. Mitch Daniels made a brief stop in Decatur on Thursday, with no apparent agenda other than a good tenderloin sandwich and some onion rings.
He found them at the West End Restaurant, taking time between a morning engagement in Fort Wayne and and an afternoon one in Portland to take on some nourishment and to chat with other customers.
"I learn a lot in places like this," Daniels said during a one-on-one interview.
The lame-duck Republican governor, who will be forced out of office at the end of 2012 due to term limits, was asked for his views on an announcement one day earlier from U.S. Rep. Mike Pence that, if elected, Pence would reduce the state income tax and repeal Indiana's estate tax.
The congressman, who is the presumptive GOP nominee in a bid to replace Daniels, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he wants the state’s individual and corporate tax rates reduced to 3 percent. The state’s individual tax rate is now 3.4 percent and the corporate rate is 8.5 percent.
"I haven't talked to Mike, but from what I've read, he placed all the necessary caveats in his statement, saying he would reduce taxes 'if' the state's reserves were adequate," Daniels said. "He said it's something he would look at, and I think that's perfectly smart. It's a pro-jobs move."
The governor said income taxes are paid not only by private residents, but also many small businesses throughout the state.
But Daniels also cautioned those who are overly eager to dip into a $1.2 billion cash reserve the state has amassed.
"This economy ... I just don't like the looks of it," said Daniels, the former budget director for President George H.W. Bush. "Our (cash) reserves are pretty good — because we've got the best employees in the country and they've helped cut down costs — but I sure don't like the (economic) signs right now."
Nonetheless, the governor said income tax cuts as suggested by Pence "are the right first step" in showing accountability to taxpayers. "The growth we're seeing right now, if it continues, will more than offset the (cost of proposed) tax cuts."
Daniels also reiterated his support in the upcoming Republican Senate primary for longtime friend Richard Lugar, who faces a stiff challenge from Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Calling Lugar his "mentor" and noting that the veteran senator is a god-father to one of his children, Daniels said his support for Lugar is based on that long friendship. He also called Mourdock a worthy opponent.
Daniels also said he expected no lasting negative impact on the Indiana Republican Party as a result of what is expected to be an intense primary campaign. "Primaries can be healthy, as long as they're conducted honorably," the governor said.
The governor attended a ground-breaking event in Fort Wayne at the site of the Manchester College school of pharmacy on Thursday morning. In the afternoon, he was scheduled to sit in on a business seminar in Portland aimed at assisting local start-up businesses.