VOICES: State income tax elimination plan relies on hope, not facts

Editor’s Note: Last week, Rep. Adam Mathews advocated for a proposal to eliminate Ohio’s income tax.

I attended the recent “Income Tax Elimination Town Hall” hosted in Lebanon by Ohio Rep. Adam Mathews (R-Dist. 56) and Ohio Sen. George Lang (R- Dist. 4), with guest Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Discussion centered around how Ohio would compensate for approximately $8 billion (25 percent of its annual budget) in lost revenue this bill would incur during its proposed six-year implementation.

Lang, who previously told attendees he is “all about business,” entered the discussion and extolled the benefits of eliminating the Ohio income tax to attract business and increase revenue. He highlighted businesses already planning to open facilities in Ohio, including Intel and Amazon.

I asked whether this plan was actually “betting on the come” in hopes of increased revenue — and Lang agreed. One attendee specifically asked Mathews whether school funding would ever be affected; he deferred to revenue growth. Lang stated if revenue fell below expectations during the six years of this proposal, the legislature would reconsider the six-year timeline. Significantly, Mr. Norquist told the group that States eliminating income taxes would never be able to reinstate them.

Finally, Lang said eliminating state income tax was not expected to be considered or enacted during this legislative term; the meeting was only a way to “solicit input” from the people. He also said Ohio is sitting on huge, untapped natural gas resources and plentiful water reserves which will attract businesses and quality workers back into Ohio.

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

A decade ago, Ohioans were told by lawmakers and economic development directors natural gas fracking would provide up to 450,000 new jobs and spur business development in rural Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia communities. The truth is, after a decade of fracking in Ohio, the Ohio River Valley Institute reports seven Ohio counties where fracking occurs suffered a net job loss of over 8 percent and a population loss of over 5 percent. In other words, fracking as an economic tool is a bust.

I was not impressed. All agreed the proposal, enacted over the next six years, would reduce Ohio revenue by approximately $8 billion —with only the “hope” new businesses would come and concomitantly increase revenue through sales taxes. In my 24-plus years of military service, hope was never considered a viable course of action. Without a concrete plan to guard against lost revenue, this proposal appears to be a Republican Party marketing plan to demonstrate it cares about taxes during an election year without putting pen to paper.

Ohioans deserve better than double-talk like, “trust us, the money will be there.” Meanwhile, Republicans plan to “drill, drill, “drill” under Ohio’s state parks and public lands to increase revenue while approximately 19,000 “orphan wells” sit idle — uncapped, unregulated and possibly spewing methane gas that hurts our health and the climate.

Additionally, even if this bill did ultimately result in a net-zero revenue loss/gain, it does nothing to address Ohio’s education system —fallen to 36th in the nation from fifth in 2010. As one attendee stated, “when I moved to Ohio years ago, I looked at the schools, not how well businesses were doing.” Of note, Ohio provides public funds to enroll their children in private schools — which decreases dollars for public education. This is a further testament to how poorly Ohio supports public education.

It’s time to focus on the people who already live in Ohio, not future plans to attract new businesses in the hope of additional revenue. “Build it and they will come” was a fantasy movie trope — it is unconscionable our elected representatives are “betting on the come” such a hope will benefit Ohioans.

Tom Cooke of Oxford, Ohio, is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and federal staff officer who moved to Ohio in 2021. He is running for the Ohio State Senate Seat in District 4.

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