Mayoral candidate Anita Lopez today criticized Gov. John Kasich for the new state budget that abolishes the homestead exemption for many Ohio residents, and later clarified her earlier mischaracterization of the change in the budget.
In a morning news conference, Ms. Lopez, the Democratic Lucas County Auditor, said the elimination of the 25 percent homestead exemption applied to all senior citizens and permanently disabled property owners who now qualify.
In fact, the newly adopted budget allows seniors and the disabled with incomes of up to $30,000 to continue receiving the discount in their property valuation, as well as anyone who already has qualified for the exemption.
Ms. Lopez said later that she did not mention that fact because she believes that in the future only a small number of new applicants who now would qualify for the 25-percent reduction will be able to qualify under the new law.
"I was passionate about it because it was such a blow to the program," Ms. Lopez said. "I failed to explain this change. This just destroyed the program as we have it now."
In her news conference, Ms. Lopez linked Governor Kasich with her opponent in the Sept. 10 Toledo mayoral primary election, independent Mayor Mike Bell. She predicted that Mr. Bell intends to take advantage of the elimination of many seniors from the homestead discount to eliminate those same people from qualifying for the discount given to seniors in their water and sewer bills.
"I am very, very concerned that Mayor Bell is going to eliminate this," Ms. Lopez said at her morning news conference outside the Lucas County Courthouse. "He’s close enough to Kasich that he should have tried to stand up to block this move."
She said the abolition of the homestead exemption was snuck into the budget with no opportunity for debate by opponents.
Jen Sorgenfrei, spokesman for Mayor Bell, said there's been no discussion in the mayor's office about eliminating the senior citizen discount for those seniors who don't qualify for the state's property tax homestead exemption.
Mayor Bell and Ms. Lopez are among seven people circulating petitions to get on the Sept. 10 ballot. The two highest vote-getters will face off in the Nov. 5 general election.
The exemption reduces a qualifying property owner’s property valuation by 25 percent, saving some homeowners as much as $300 or $400 in their tax bill, Ms. Lopez said.
Ms. Lopez, who calculates the homestead exemption for the property tax bills that are later mailed out by the county treasurer, said she did not know how much money is saved by the property tax exemption. Her spokesman later said that 35,393 Lucas County residents get the exemption, including 21,343 in Toledo.
“Now anyone who turns 65 this year or next year will no longer qualify for the homestead discount. I think it reflects a government that is not in touch with how seniors were benefiting from this,” said Ms. Lopez at her morning news conference.
The Blade reported that the actual budget approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Kasich leaves the exemption in place for future new applicants if they have incomes of under $30,000. Everyone who already has qualified for the exemption, regardless of income, is grandfathered in.
Ms. Lopez said the Republican-controlled budget bill reinstated the means-testing that was in place until 2006. As proof that few property owners will qualify under the new rule, Ms. Lopez cited figures showing that in 2006, there were 460 new applicants in Lucas County for the exemption. But the following year, there were 17,751 new applicants - people who suddenly became eligible under the changed law, according to Ms. Lopez. After that rush of applicants, the number of new applicants in subsequent years was 1,114 in 2008; 1,751 in 2009; 2,173 in 2010; 2,183 in 2011; 2,366 in 2012, and 2,859 in 2012.
"He has eliminated 95 percent of the type of people who now would be eligible," Ms. Lopez said.
The budget also eliminated the 12.5-percent rollback on property taxes for future new levies and replacement levies passed by local governments or schools while continuing to apply it it to existing and renewal levies.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.