Cleveland Plain Dealer. June 27, 2021.
Editorial: Ohio lawmakers should resist urge to score political points by cutting income tax
As Ohio’s budget-writing General Assembly nears it June 30 deadline, legislators should apply common sense, not political dogma, if they prune the state income tax.
Since the mid-1980s, the General Assembly has seldom passed a state budget without the headline bait of a tax cut. Soon forgotten is whether tax cuts add any pep to Ohio’s sluggish economy.
Meanwhile, state taxes in Ohio – repeat, state taxes – are relatively reasonable. Ohio Taxation Department data for 2017-18, the latest posted, indicates Ohio ranks 29th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in total taxes per capita ($4,640).
Ohio’s rank would be even lower (that is, closer to 51st), but for this paradox: Ohio ranks 37th overall, but in terms of local taxes per capita, Ohio ranks 19th.
Obviously, real estate taxes levied locally, much of which support schools the state won’t fairly fund, are part of the reason. And Ohio cities and villages were early adopters of the municipal income tax.
Meanwhile, rather than amply fund local governments, the state instead lets them to impose an array of local “piggyback” taxes, pushing up communities’ local tax burden.
And Ohio’s manufacturing economy has been stuttering because of foreign trade policies pushed by multinational corporations and politicians of both parties. Median household income in Ohio is $56,602; nationally, it’s $62,843.
Ohio’s state income tax, passed in 1971 by a Republican-run General Assembly, took effect for 1972. In 1983, to make up falling tax collections in a deep recession, the General Assembly’s Democrats boosted Ohio’s income tax by 90%.
Republicans gained control of the state Senate in November 1984 by promising to cut the income tax. They have controlled the Senate ever since.
And Republicans in both chambers have convinced themselves that income tax cuts, rather than, say, gerrymandered districts and fat cat campaign contributors, are what keeps them in power. Cuts were approved in 1985, 1986, 1996, 2005 (for a five-year series of cuts), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019 -- and another could follow yet this month.
And beginning in 2016, the first $250,000 of an Ohioans’ business income – as a sole proprietor, or via partnerships, S corporations or limited liability companies – is 100% deductible. The business income deduction will deprive the state treasury an estimated $1.35 billion in revenue over the next two fiscal year, according to official estimates.
Despite all those cuts, Ohio’s economy hasn’t taken off. In 1985 the state’s poverty rate was 13%, while the national rate was 14%. In 2017-18, 32 years into Ohio’s income-tax-cut politicking, Ohio’s poverty rate was 13.9% while the national rate was 13.1%, the Development Services Agency reported.
Earlier this year, citing pre-pandemic data, U.S. News & World Report ranked Ohio 39th in job growth among the states.
Evidently, the promises of flush times flowing from income tax cuts were just that: Promises.
The truth is most Ohio taxpayers see little benefit from the tax cuts. A 2% cut across the board proposed in the Ohio House budget in April would reduce annual tax collections by about $148 million. But the savings for a typical filer with $60,000 in taxable income would amount to just $29 a year, cleveland.com found.
On the state level, Ohio doesn’t have a tax problem.
It abolished its tax on business equipment and inventories. It repealed its estate tax. It abolished its “intangibles” tax on financial instruments. According to the Tax Foundation, Ohio’s statewide sales tax rate, 5.75%, is 27th among the states.
But taking into account Ohio’s county piggyback sales taxes – hot potatoes the legislature tosses to county officials – Ohio ranks 20th in sales tax rates. It’s highest in Cuyahoga County at 8%.
The state government has an investment problem, not a tax problem. It underinvests in K-12 schools. It underinvests in children’s services. And the state underinvests in such quality-of-life topics as strongly policed care for older people, especially important since the proportion of older residents is rising.
That’s the issue with tax cuts for the sake of headlines: Politics triumph over policy. It’s gone on for too long in Ohio’s budget debates. And such beside-the-point budgeting needs to end.
Akron Beacon Journal. June 27, 2021.
Editorial: Akron’s police chief candidates seem eager to lead change. Will city be ready?
Three candidates remain for what must be the toughest job in Akron — chief of police.
The new chief will have a daunting task — he must strike a balance between retaining and attracting high quality officers and building community confidence in the department. Even as the mayor, city council, citizen panels, the police union and protest groups put forth their agendas.
The three candidates all come from outside of the Akron department, and seem to be on the same page in recognizing the need for thoughtful change. Akron, like cities across the country, was the site of protests after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer 13 months ago.
Akron’s last police chief, Ken Ball, held the job for three years, taking over from James Nice, who resigned amid allegations of wrongdoing and use of a racial slur. While Ball received praise from Mayor Dan Horrigan, his retirement came after some community members claimed he wasn’t progressive enough.
2021’s three finalists, however, seem eager to emphasize that they would build relationships with Black residents and young people and fine-tune officers’ skills to better serve the public. The finalists are white males with decades of experience — a fourth finalist and the only minority, Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins, has withdrawn from the selection process.
The three finalists are Joseph Sullivan, a retired deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department; Steve Mylett, chief of the Bellevue Police Department in Washington and Chris Davis, deputy chief of the Portland Police Bureau in Oregon. Davis has Ohio ties — he began his law enforcement career in Arizona but grew up in the Columbus area.
There’s a lot to like about each candidate. Sullivan noted that some people say they don’t understand why he would want to be a police chief in these times.
His response? “I can’t think of a better time to be a chief of police and have the opportunity to have a seat at the table and be a part of the conversation.”
Davis, too, sees the nation at a crossroads and believes it’s possible to “evolve.”
And Mylett, speaking of his track record of “changing systems in need of change,” said the work depends on building coalitions and teams.
The candidates have acknowledged the importance of listening and detailed how they did so in their communities. They know they would have a lot to learn as outsiders in the Akron department.
Listening will be a tall order, though, as there are many loud voices, whether they come from activists, City Council or the police union. The new chief will need to form alliances, and we encourage leaders to be ready to have his back.
The chief’s greatest task will be to get all employees on board with whatever changes are coming. With morale low, police departments around the country have seen unusual numbers of officers retire or resign in the year since the Floyd killing.
The Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum says the rate of retirements at some departments rose 45% compared with the previous year and resignations climbed by 18 percent, the New York Times reported.
In Asheville, North Carolina, the Times reports departing officers were worn down by low pay, vicious criticism and the demands of handling “tangled societal problems,” such as mental health breakdowns and drug overdoses.
For residents, a rise in violence is a key concern. More than two dozen people have been slain in Akron so far this year, and a survey conducted by the city finds more than half of respondents feel less safe than before.
Akron leaders and residents will need to have realistic expectations of the chief. Not everyone will agree on what an even-handed and effective police force looks like. Tragedies will take place that interrupt important conversations.
The chief will need time, too, to implement changes. A leader who can commit more than a couple of short years would be the ideal pick, and timelines for making changes should be of sufficient length.
These candidates appear to be skillful communicators. We urge the man who is selected to do more than tell the citizens what they want to hear, though.
The people must be kept informed. When there are accusations against the police, bodycam footage and reports must be disclosed, not concealed.
Deliberations on proposed changes must take place in public meetings.
Nothing is more important to Akron’s future than the safety of its people. Akron leaders must join together to make their next police chief a success.
Youngstown Vindicator. June 25, 2021.
Editorial: Speed cameras poor substitute for local taxes
That’s how much money Girard collected last year in fines generated from motorists caught on camera speeding in the city — the same year that COVID-19 was hitting hard the wages and economy of motorists and residents.
Additionally, hundreds of thousands of dollars also generated from these speed camera fines were sent last year to the private out-of-state company that provides the cameras to the city.
Now Girard officials are in the process of approving just how they will spend all this cash that came out of the pockets of unsuspecting motorists, mostly caught in the areas of State Street and on Interstate 80. We believe these motorists lose some due process when they don’t get the fair warning of blinking lights and a siren behind them or at least an opportunity to defend themselves to the police officer making a traffic stop. In most cases, it’s fair to say the motorists probably didn’t even have an inkling that they were being caught on camera because the officers holding the cameras usually are hidden away, to prevent each motorist from lifting his or her foot off the gas pedal. The tickets show up in their mailboxes a couple weeks later.
We consistently have heard from municipal and township leaders in many local communities using the cameras that these tools were used solely for public safety and welfare. They argued it would slow motorists and make streets safer.
We beg to differ. Police officers hiding on bridge overpasses or atop highway entrance ramps out of view cause no one to slow down and drive safer.
Police officers in Howland, which ended its speed camera program months ago, frequently parked their cruisers near the ramps between East Market Street and state Route 82 where officers sat with their speed cameras. Since ending speed camera use, officers rarely can be seen parked in that area, despite their concerns for motorists’ safety.
This is not to mention the slippery slope of allowing police to increase their focus on revenue generation rather than on other community policing efforts.
This month Girard council gave first reading to how it will disperse the $1.8 million generated from the speed camera civil penalties. Officials there intend to place 58 percent in the city’s general fund; 18 percent in the street construction fund; 14 percent for the recreation fund; and 5 percent each for capital improvements and capital improvements safety.
It sounds to us like Girard officials are treating these traffic fines as an operating or capital improvement tax. The city even has adjusted the rates of these fines, creating a tiered system to ensure the money keeps rolling in at a steady pace.
If you’re caught speeding on the cameras in Girard, you can expect to pay $150 for speeding in a construction zone; $125 for 10 to 15 mph over the speed limit; $135 for 16 to 25 mph over the limit; and $150 for 26 or more mph over.
Ironically, at the same meeting when the speed camera funds were discussed, council also touched on the city’s use of COVID-19 relief funds coming from taxpayers on a federal level.
While the city was generating $1.8 million with speed camera use during last year’s pandemic, many residents and motorists were struggling with unemployment and a poor economy.
Traffic fines never should be treated as a tax to keep a city afloat. Ohio law generally gives residents the ability to decide how much money they believe their local government should have to operate their government by giving constituents an opportunity to cast a ballot on local tax levies.
Some local governments, however, have removed that right and responsibility from voters, apparently deciding traffic cameras are an easier way to generate revenue without ever requiring voter input.
We’ve said it many times before.
Policing for profit is just wrong.
Sandusky Register. June 23, 2021.
Editorial: Tax ban shortsighted
We won’t ask — yet again — why Ohio’s General Assembly members concoct such bad ideas because that’s just too easy. It seems too often there’s another provision added to a piece of legislation to derail debate and upend the boundaries of common sense. The latest is a permanent ban barring local taxes from being levied on the use of plastic bags, the kind you get in grocery stores.
Imagine, one day you could grow up, get elected to the General Assembly and become the author of legislation that protects the plastic bag industry over the environment. Mom and Dad would be so proud.
We must say we’re baffled by this. Why would anyone take the time to craft a provision — to sneak into other legislation — so that cities and towns would be prohibited from taxing the menacing plastic bags, which have a one-use life cycle? Think about it. Whose master are lawmakers serving?
We can do better. We should expect better. From our lawmakers and from ourselves. There has to be a better way to move our groceries from stores to our refrigerators that won’t be as harmful to the environment as these bags, millions and millions of bags. Surely we can be more thoughtful?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 14.5 million tons of plastic containers and packaging became municipal solid waste in 2018 alone. Taxing bad practices is one way lawmakers have to improve situation, or in this case, cater to the lobbyists
Powerful retail and plastics industry groups — including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Manufacturers Association, and the Ohio Chemistry Technology Council — all supported the proposal. Score big for them; loss big for the planet.
Marietta Times. June 25, 2021.
Editorial: Ohio arts organizations need us now
In April of this year, the unemployment rate for those in Ohio’s arts and entertainment sector was 21%. Though employment in the sector improved a bit by May, the damage of more than a year of pandemic-related closures is clear. According to a report by Ohio Citizens for the Arts, its members suffered significant financial losses. These are organizations ranging from the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts, and the Great Lakes Theater to the Zanesville Museum of Art.
Yes, CARES act funding was funneled toward the arts community, but it was a drop in the bucket.
” … Unfortunately, the organizations permitted to apply for CARES (Act) funding indicate in this new survey that the one-time relief aid had only kept their institutions afloat for an average of six weeks,” said Angela Meleca, executive director of the Ohio Citizens for the Arts, in a statement on the report.
That means the arts organizations we love need help from all directions. Remember, when we were cooped up at home, we turned to musicians, actors, authors, artists and other performers to keep us company and ease our minds. Support for the arts is essential.
Lawmakers and bureaucrats must therefore make sure that fiscally responsible arts organizations get whatever help is available to them at the state and federal level.
“No business can be expected to survive, by no fault of their own, on zero earned income for more than a year and then be presumed that they can stay alive without additional one-time assistance,” Meleca said.
But those of us who love and understand the value of these organizations must also show our support. Many are attempting to bring back concerts, exhibits, classes and other offerings on a shoe string. They are not up to full strength. Buy a ticket, register for a class or make a donation, anyway. If theses groups get the support they need, they will be back to providing the high-quality arts exposure and education we so desperately need in no time.