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Ed FitzGerald, the newly endorsed Democratic candidate for governor, Thursday criticized the repeal of the homestead exemption for seniors earning more than $30,000 as a mistake that he, if elected, would reverse.
Mr. FitzGerald, the executive of Cuyahoga County, stood with some local supporters and senior citizens in front of the Chester Zablocki Senior Center on Lagrange Street to criticize Republican Gov. John Kasich’s tax policies. He received the Ohio Democratic Party executive committee’s endorsement Wednesday night, but still has to win the party’s nomination in the 2014 primary election. He is the only Democrat so far in the gubernatorial race.
The governor and the GOP-controlled legislature this year rolled back eligibility for the homestead exemption — zero property taxes on the first $25,000 of property valuation — to apply only to those earning less than $30,000 a year, as well as everyone who’s already getting it, as part of the two-year $62 billion budget. Mr. FitzGerald said seniors were planning on the discount, which he estimated at an average of $441 per homeowner, in their retirement.
“That’s a lot of money especially for someone who’s on a fixed income. This is not a huge expense for the state, but it’s a big deal for those original homeowners,” Mr. FitzGerald said.
He claimed the rollback was enacted to be able to reduce income taxes that “mostly benefited the richest people in the state.” He said some seniors will end up paying more taxes because of the quarter-percent increase in the state sales tax to 5.75 cents on the dollar, or 7 cents in Lucas County.
Asked if he would reinstate the homestead exemption for all seniors, Mr. FitzGerald said yes. He also endorsed a bill co-sponsored by state Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) to reinstate the broader exemption.
Ms. Brown said the repeal was a mistake and not well thought through.
“We are pushing very, very hard to get this through the legislature because it is going to be devastating to many, many seniors,” Ms. Brown said.
Voicing support of the broader homestead exemption was Sharon Belkofer, 71, of Perrysburg Township, who said the exemption means a lot to her and her husband.
“When I learned this was done to be able to give tax breaks to people who certainly are in no need at all of those kinds of tax breaks I was even more concerned,” Mrs. Belkofer said. “Our children are going to be impacted. School districts are going to find it increasingly difficult to pass levies.”
Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf said the Republican-backed tax reform “provides $3 billion in tax relief and benefits all Ohioans.”
“Ed FitzGerald is a big government liberal who thinks he knows how to spend the taxpayer’s money better than the taxpayer does,” Mr. Schrimpf said. “If it was up to FitzGerald, Ohioans would be paying $3 billion more in taxes.”
Also, Mr. FitzGerald called on Mr. Kasich to return approximately $22,000 in contributions his campaign has received from Benjamin Suarez, a Canton businessman who was indicted Wednesday in federal court in Cleveland on charges of scheming to funnel $190,000 in illegal contributions to two 2012 Republican candidates — state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who was running for the U.S. Senate and Jim Renacci of Wadsworth, who ran successfully for the House.
The Kasich campaign announced later Thursday it was sending a check for the entire amount, $22,395.56, to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Mr. FitzGerald also responded to speculation about who he might select as his running mate. He said he has been interviewing people from all major areas of the state, adding in response to a question, “I haven’t excluded the Toledo area.”
“The traditional time frame to choose a running mate in the last couple of election cycles has been January. I think we’ll do it earlier than January. We have been interviewing some potential candidates in different parts of the state and we’re still kind of in the middle of that process,” Mr. FitzGerald said. “There hasn’t been a decision made.”