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Published: Friday, 3/24/2006

Ohio Senate urged to kill tax break

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - A sporting goods store developer yesterday urged an Ohio Senate committee to kill a special tax break proposal that it charges will give megaretailers like Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's an unfair advantage.

But the local sales-tax break, which Wood County requested in hopes of using it to lure Bass Pro to Rossford, is expected to survive when the bill reaches the full Senate week.

"The governor supports it. The House supports it, and I anticipate that we'll support it at this time," said Sen. John Carey (R., Wellston), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

A budget correction bill expected to be signed by Gov. Bob Taft before the end of the month includes a provision allowing counties to use part of their local sales tax to lure a large, tourist-destination retailer with a minimum infrastructure investment of $50 million

"There are many more such retail fishing and hunting stores, spread throughout Ohio, that are prospering without taxpayer handouts," said Scott Pullins, chairman of the Ohio Taxpayers Association and a lobbyist hired by a consulting firm representing the developer for the Minnesota-based sporting goods chain Gander Mountain.

"They are living what we know as the American Dream and should not be punished by being forced to compete with big companies that have the political clout to force taxpayers to subsidize their risk," he said.

The committee, however, questioned why it took so long for opponents to weigh in. Gander Mountain, which has nine stores and 1,185 employees in Ohio, sent a letter to Mr. Taft on Tuesday asking him to "say no" to this provision, but yesterday marked the first time anyone has testified on the issue.

The massive budget correction bill passed the House with a single negative vote on Wednesday.

Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), a committee member, did not attend yesterday's hearing. But he defended the tax break in a memo to fellow committee members.

"If Ohio is successful in attracting development of a new destination, tourism-based impact facility, such as Bass Pro, Cabela's, or Gander Mountain, Ohioans in many counties will benefit [through] more visitors to Ohio to hunt, fish, camp, go boating, stay in our campgrounds, eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, and buy hundreds of products from gasoline to food."

Committee members yesterday seemed interested in how broadly the tax break is drawn. The language is not site or store-specific, but it is drawn narrowly to apply only to a project that commits by Dec. 1, invests at least $50 million, sets aside at least 10 percent of its square footage for education and exhibition, maintains at least 150 full-time "equivalent" employees, and states that more than half of its visitors would come from at least 100 miles away.

A qualifying developer could get back 75 cents of every $1 collected in county "piggyback" sales tax collections from the site for either 10 years or until it recoups its infrastructure investment, whichever is less.

Wood County adds a penny on the dollar to the state's sales tax of 5.5 cents. Lucas, which has pitched the Marina District to Bass Pro, levies an additional 1.25 cents.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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