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Published: Friday, 6/28/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Raising state taxes under guise of ‘reform’ an odorous ploy

Changes to the senior exemption and the property tax rollback may be the last straw for voters

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Katie bar the door. Ohio Republicans are gunning to raise taxes. Look out working class, low-income residents, and senior citizens. Tax hikes are coming.

They may sound like “tax relief,” when portrayed by GOP spinners in Columbus, but where’s the relief in paying higher taxes on what you buy or the property you own? Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of political doublespeak.

In Republican-controlled Ohio hiking taxes for anyone who buys goods, pays property taxes, is poor, or retired is called “comprehensive tax reform.” Republican-speak for raising taxes on those who can least afford it — while cutting taxes for those who can well bear the expense — sounds like this:

“The key to this proposal is to make Ohio the most attractive place in the nation for job growth and job creation for middle class Ohioans.” So says state Senate Finance Committee Chairman Scott Oelslager (R., North Canton).

“It’s a plan that lets Ohioans keep more of their hard-earned money to spend on their families.” That from Ohio Senate President Keith Faber (R., Celina).

“The reason this is really important is because — as we talk about making our economy stronger — this is about people.” House Finance and Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz (R., Wooster), offered that.

“This is another big step forward in Ohio’s comeback.” GOP Gov. John Kasich spoke thus.

Sometimes the Republican universe is hard to reconcile with reality. Here’s the straight talk about tax increases that GOP lawmakers want to use to finance tax breaks for business investors and the rich.

In exchange for state income tax cuts during the next three years, Republicans plan to raise sales and property taxes. Sort of like a tax shell game.

Reducing taxes on income and investment means less revenue, of course, and the government needs to recoup it somewhere. So how about shaking down average Ohioans whose cost-of-living eclipsed take-home pay eons ago?

How about hitting up property owners who are already taxed too much for everything local? How about rejecting a reduction in the property tax burden for all retirees that allows seniors, on fixed incomes with growing medical expenses, to shield some of the market value of their home from taxation?

How about raising taxes on all of the above and calling it “tax code reform”? Sounds like a plan, said Republican lawmakers, bowing to Big Business.

Let’s hike the state sales tax rate by one-quarter of one percent, from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent. We’ll call it an “adjustment” and gloss over the fact that piggybacked county tax rates across Ohio will go up. That would force Ohioans to pay more on the dollar on a wider array of goods and services.

GOP lawmakers also decided to do away with tax relief for property owners hit with future property tax levies. That means higher taxes for property owners, who will have to pay their entire tax bill for new or replacement levies without any help from the state.

The Web site of Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder (R., Medina) describes the bigger tax bill as a way to “increase property tax transparency and simplification by eliminating a taxpayer subsidy.” Makes oppressive property taxes almost seem like a good thing.

Republicans targeted senior citizens for tax increases by scaling back a property tax break that, since 2007, has been available to all Ohio homeowners age 65 or older or permanently and totally disabled. In the future, owners with annual incomes above $30,000 will not be eligible for the homestead exemption. .

Changes to the senior exemption and the property tax rollback may be the last straw for voters who are asked to pass levies. “The additional burden of a huge property tax hike will mean faltering schools will fail, rural districts and urban districts alike will be left behind,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said.

Same goes for hard-hit local municipalities that try to maintain services without support from taxed-out constituencies. It would be lovely if the tax increases Ohio Republicans propose for consumers and property owners were offset by the tax cuts on the table but they aren’t — not for all, not by a long shot.

Ohio is poised to undergo a fundamental shift in how state government is funded (from taxing income to taxing consumption). But you’d never know that it’s changing at your expense from the doublespeak Republicans are dishing. Save your spin Messrs. Batchelder, Faber, Kasich, et al.

We’re on to your tax-raising scheme and its potential to set middle-class families back years.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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