By Marc Kovac
Business groups and owners, advocates for the needy and a conservative economist voiced their support Friday afternoon for a Republican-backed tax-reform package that would lower state income-tax rates, boost the state sales tax rate and close loopholes in the state tax code.
But school officials, magazine publishers and one liberal think tank voiced concerns about the proposal, which is expected to be folded into the state’s $61.7 billion biennial budget bill and signed into law before the end of the month.
More than a dozen speakers from both sides offered testimony during an informal hearing before the Ohio House’s Ways and Means Committee, a day after the GOP leaders of the House and Senate unveiled the tax-law changes.
A comparable hearing is set for early next week before a lawmaker panel in the Senate, with final action on the package and the larger two-year spending plan expected in advance of July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Among other provisions, Republicans have proposed a 10 percent income-tax cut over three years along with a 50 percent reduction in taxes on the first $250,000 in business income.
GOP leaders also want to increase the state sales-tax rate to 5.75 percent from 5.5 percent, focus homestead property tax exemptions on low-income seniors and reduce Commercial Activity Tax breaks.
Backers say the changes would result in about $2.6 billion in tax savings by the end of fiscal 2016.
Business groups, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, already have offered their support, as has Gov. John Kasich.
Richard Vedder, an economist and professor emeritus at Ohio University, said the legislation likely would boost business and economic growth.
“This revenue package is not a giveaway to the rich,” he said.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, also is backing the plan, saying it would put more money in pockets of needy residents.
“These are common-sense proposals and good tax policies that help to strengthen Ohio’s tax code,” she said.
And Richard Shaw, who owns a Zanesville health clinic, said the tax package would enable him to expand.
But Statehouse Democrats are not on board, calling the revisions good news for wealthy residents and bad news for everybody else.
Other groups also voiced their apprehension Friday. John Lunn, publisher of Cincinnati Magazine, said language to be added to the budget to eliminate a tax exemption for magazine subscriptions would hurt his business.
“I am opposed to this tax on my magazine subscriptions because it will force me to decide to either pass this new tax along to my readers or absorb it as a new expense,” he said.
The Ohio Association of School Business Officials wants the state to remove or postpone the elimination of property-tax rollback reductions.
“We have concerns about the shift from the state level to the local property taxpayers,” Barbara Shaner, associate executive director, said in written testimony submitted to lawmakers. “We believe these changes will make it more difficult for school districts to pass new levies.”
And Policy Matters Ohio said the reform package would shift tax burdens onto low- and middle- income Ohioans.
“Reducing the income tax and replacing a considerable portion of the revenue with a sales tax increase amounts to a direct shift in who pays taxes in Ohio,” Wendy Patton, senior project director, said in written testimony.