Governor-hopeful vows to make taxes less taxing

Could tax forms ever return to something this simple?
Could tax forms ever return to something this simple?

Vowing to foster fair and simpler tax policies if Ohioans elect her governor, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor said last week that Ohio’s state income-tax form, now an 11-page tax return plus 60 pages of instructions, was postcard-size when the tax began in 1972.

Taylor, a suburban Akron Republican, said that if she becomes governor, she’ll return the income tax return “to the size of a postcard,” update Ohio’s withholding tables and appoint a taxpayer advocate, among other reforms. Those, for sure, are crowd-pleasers. But there’s a big if: An Ohio General Assembly that made today’s state tax system the patchwork it now is.

Taylor, 51, was state auditor (the first CPA to hold that office) before she was elected lieutenant governor in 2010 as Gov. John R. Kasich’s running mate. Through March 31, Taylor also headed the state Insurance Department. Before Taylor was elected auditor in 2006, she was an Ohio House member.

Vying with Taylor for 2018’s GOP gubernatorial nomination are Attorney General Mike DeWine, 70; Secretary of State Jon Husted, who turned 50 on Friday; and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, of Wadsworth, 58. (Term-limits bar Kasich, a suburban Columbus Republican, from seeking a third consecutive term.)

State elections can pivot on tax policy. Republican James A. Rhodes, making his 1974 comeback by unseating Democratic Gov. John J. Gilligan, charged that Gilligan, who’d persuaded the legislature to create the income tax late in 1971, wanted to tax “everything in Ohio that walks, crawls or flies.”

But Rhodes, as governor, never tried to repeal the income tax. And Republicans forget to mention that the 1971-72 General Assembly, which passed the income tax, was GOP-run: The state income tax passed only because of “yes” votes from 6 Republican senators (including future Senate President Stanley J. Aronoff) and 13 House Republicans (including then-Speaker Charles F. Kurfess and future Minority Leader Corwin M. Nixon).

In 1984, 10 years after Rhodes unseated Gilligan, Republicans won control of the Ohio Senate in by assailing a 90 percent income tax increase Democratic Gov. Richard F. Celeste and Democratic House and Senate majorities engineered in 1983. The GOP has run the Senate ever since.

Ohio’s income tax form isn’t the only thing that’s grown. In the year ending June 30, 1973 – first full fiscal year of the state income tax – the tax produced $374 million. In the year ending June 30, 2016, the state income tax produced almost $8.2 billion for Ohio’s treasury.

Among the reasons for that: Dollar inflation – in June 2016, it required $5.45 to buy what $1 bought in June 1973, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics – and Ohio incomes grew.

In 1973, Ohio’s per capita personal income was $5,244; in 2016, it was $44,876, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. (The trouble is, Ohio’s per capita lagged the nation’s – $49,5471 in 2016 – despite decades of Statehouse “jobs-and-progress” ballyhoo and all the “job creating” business tax breaks the legislature has ladled out.)

The Statehouse paradox: Tax forms and instructions are bloated with “ifs” and “buts” to deter … creative … taxpayers from claiming credits and deductions to which they’re not entitled. That is, to shrink taxpayers’ paperwork, legislators would have to end a slew of complicated (that is, written for favored taxpayers) tax breaks. To believe the General Assembly would gladly do so is like thinking water runs uphill. That is, what Mary Taylor says she’d want to do to challenge business-as-usual on Capitol Square. To her credit, that’s always a fight worth having – but it’s always a fight that’s tough to win.