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Published: Saturday, 3/25/2006

Snowbird sham

THE transparency is unmistakable. A state lawmaker wants to give tax breaks to rich retirees who winter in warmer climates that have better tax benefits. State Rep. Jim Trakas, who's running for secretary of state, not only wants to curry favor with constituents but keep their campaign contributions coming.

He professes concern that Ohio "snowbirds" hesitate to send money north for things like charities, non-profits or political campaigns for fear of being subject to state taxes.

Current law allows people, mostly retirees, to remain in the state four months of the year without declaring residency or paying taxes here. The Independence Republican wants that limit extended up to six months and convinced enough House members to go along with his scheme.

The measure passed 79-15 and is headed to the Senate.

If the legislation ultimately wins approval, the wealthy - whom Mr. Trakas admits would primarily benefit from the tax-free residency extension - won't have to worry about pesky tax obligations that might cut into their disposable income.

"If you spend four months here and we see all kinds of activity around you, we can investigate you and find out if you are really spending more than four months here," said the lawmaker, alluding to the authority of the Ohio Department of Taxation.

And rightly so. The tax department says if the Trakas bill becomes law, Ohio could lose up to $30 million a year in tax revenues from people who reside longer than four months in the state - but less than six.

Department spokesman Gary Gudmundson said the agency is also troubled about other costs connected with the bill.

But clearly Mr. Trakas is more disturbed by the plight of affluent snowbirds reluctant to part with their northbound dollars lest they draw suspicion from tax collectors or auditors. He even argues that letting mainly rich retirees off the hook with taxes is good for the state economy.

If snowbirds can stay longer in Ohio without paying any taxes, Mr. Trakas claims, they might spend more leisure money in the state. Oh, come on.

The Senate should see right through this attempt to win friends and influence voters.



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