I have read with interest news reports on the plan of newly elected Speaker of the Ohio House, Bill Batchelder, to introduce legislation to abolish Ohio’s Estate Tax – the death tax. I applaud the determination of Speaker Batchelder and Governor-elect John Kasich to end this unfair, destructive and highly inefficient tax.
Much has been written about the destructiveness of death taxes which are now levied by only a handful of states in the nation. Ohio’s death tax, arguably the most onerous in the nation, amounts to a 7% penalty on the job-creating capital the state so desperately needs. There is little wonder that Ohio ranks 49th in economic performance among the states and that we are again the biggest loser in the recent census report, with two more congressional seats going to states that care more about their citizens’ economic well-being.
Your report quotes Ohio Municipal League Deputy Director, John Mahoney, as saying his group wants the state to replace any revenue that abolishment of the tax would cause. To borrow New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s phrase, what Mr. Mahoney fails to realize is that Ohio communities, by and large, do not have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem. Mr. Mahoney should be demanding that the state provide local governments with the tools they need to manage their spending to stay within the limits of the revenue they have available; things like the end of unfunded mandates and prevailing wage rules, public pension reform, collective bargaining and binding arbitration reform.
Mr. Mahoney notes the amount of revenue collected in Ohio death taxes in 2009; he fails to mention that this is substantially less than the amounts collected during the 1990’s. Perhaps this is related to the fact that some 500,000 Ohioans have left the state in the past dozen years. He fails to note that the tax provides a miniscule proportion of total revenues raised by local governments in Ohio. And finally he neglects to mention that the death tax skews the flow of revenue toward the wealthiest, best-off communities, providing economically depressed areas that really do have revenue problems with little but closed businesses and shuttered buildings.
There have been calls for a summit of taxing authorities in Ohio to address the problems that local governments face. In my experience, summits, committees, task forces, studies, serve only to protect the status quo and to kick the can down the road until a more favorable political environment allows really facing issues and solving problems to be avoided. There is no real question about the problems that Ohio’s local governments face or what are the solutions to those problems. The question is whether there is the will to solve them.
One final point, the proposal being floated which would abolish Ohio’s death tax but then allow an option for local communities to opt back in and reinstate it, is an exercise in political sleight of hand, not an exercise in improving Ohio’s tax situation. Mr. Mahoney’s comments provide abundant evidence that there will be many who will grasp at every last declining penny of tax revenue, rather than facing Ohio’s real problem of responsible government spending that reflects the state’s economic realities.
As chairman of a committee with 1600 volunteer petition circulators, and as one of more than 83,000 Ohio citizens who signed petitions in 2010 demanding an end to Ohio’s death tax, I applaud Speaker Batchelder and Governor-elect Kasich’s determination to address the real problems that face Ohio.