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Ohio’s high tax burden, poor business tax climate is hurting economy

3 min readBy: Scott Hodge

This op-ed appeared in the Chillicothe Gazette (Chillicothe, OH) on February 4, 2010.

In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Ted Strickland announced his plan to spur job growth through a $40 million Energy Gateway Fund focused on developing “green energy” jobs. What both the governor and the state legislature fail to recognize is that the state’s taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. climate is driving businesses and individuals out of Ohio.

Ohio taxpayers have one of the highest state and local tax burdens in the nation and one of the worst tax climates for business. During the past 15 years, out-migration from the state has led to a shrinking economy and smaller tax baseThe tax base is the total amount of income, property, assets, consumption, transactions, or other economic activity subject to taxation by a tax authority. A narrow tax base is non-neutral and inefficient. A broad tax base reduces tax administration costs and allows more revenue to be raised at lower rates. . At the same time, state government spending grew unchecked, resulting in a heavier tax burden on the state’s remaining citizens.

Between 1993 and 2008, the state lost 231,000 taxpayers and $19 billion in adjusted gross incomeFor individuals, gross income is the total pre-tax earnings from wages, tips, investments, interest, and other forms of income and is also referred to as “gross pay.” For businesses, gross income is total revenue minus cost of goods sold and is also known as “gross profit” or “gross margin.” to out-migration. In the same time period, state spending grew from $31.6 billion in 1993 to more than $67 billion in 2008 — a 47 percent increase even after adjusting for inflationInflation is when the general price of goods and services increases across the economy, reducing the purchasing power of a currency and the value of certain assets. The same paycheck covers less goods, services, and bills. It is sometimes referred to as a “hidden tax,” as it leaves taxpayers less well-off due to higher costs and “bracket creep,” while increasing the government’s spending power. and population growth.

State and local taxes consumed 10.4 percent of the state’s income in 2008 — seventh-highest in the nation. From a regional-competitiveness standpoint, Ohio is surrounded by states that have much lower tax burdens. Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia are all clustered in the middle of the national rankings (27th, 28th, 25th and 29th, respectively), while Pennsylvania’s tax burden is 11th highest in the nation but still lower than Ohio’s.

Ohio’s top income tax rate of 5.925 percent is about average regionally and nationally. However, this does not include the income tax rates imposed by most Ohio cities and school districts, which can boost the overall rate to more than 7 percent. In addition, Ohio’s income tax system has nine separate tax bracketA tax bracket is the range of incomes taxed at given rates, which typically differ depending on filing status. In a progressive individual or corporate income tax system, rates rise as income increases. There are seven federal individual income tax brackets; the federal corporate income tax system is flat. s before the top rate kicks in at $200,000, and these brackets are not indexed to inflation.

All of Ohio’s neighbors except Indiana have lower combined state and local sales taxA sales tax is levied on retail sales of goods and services and, ideally, should apply to all final consumption with few exemptions. Many governments exempt goods like groceries; base broadening, such as including groceries, could keep rates lower. A sales tax should exempt business-to-business transactions which, when taxed, cause tax pyramiding. rates than Ohio’s 6.83 percent average rate. In addition, Ohio’s sales tax applies to many business-to-business activities, which increases the cost of doing business in the state.

Ohio’s commercial activity tax is a particularly harmful type of gross receipts taxA gross receipts tax, also known as a turnover tax, is applied to a company’s gross sales, without deductions for a firm’s business expenses, like costs of goods sold and compensation. Unlike a sales tax, a gross receipts tax is assessed on businesses and apply to business-to-business transactions in addition to final consumer purchases, leading to tax pyramiding. that results in what economists call “tax pyramidingTax pyramiding occurs when the same final good or service is taxed multiple times along the production process. This yields vastly different effective tax rates depending on the length of the supply chain and disproportionately harms low-margin firms. Gross receipts taxes are a prime example of tax pyramiding in action. ” because it applies to all transactions, including business-to-business purchases of supplies and other materials.

While Ohio’s property taxA property tax is primarily levied on immovable property like land and buildings, as well as on tangible personal property that is movable, like vehicles and equipment. Property taxes are the single largest source of state and local revenue in the U.S. and help fund schools, roads, police, and other services. es are a relatively modest $1,165 per capita, the state undermines its growth potential by being one of 22 states with a capital stock tax (levied on the wealth of a corporation) and one of only 10 states with an intangible property tax (imposed on things such as stocks, bonds and even trademarks). Ohio also imposes its own estate taxAn estate tax is imposed on the net value of an individual’s taxable estate, after any exclusions or credits, at the time of death. The tax is paid by the estate itself before assets are distributed to heirs. , with a much lower taxing threshold ($338,000) than what exists at the federal level.

The first step to reforming Ohio’s tax structure should be to reduce the state’s reliance on business taxes by eliminating the CAT tax, the capital stock tax and the intangibles tax. These are the most anti-growth taxes within the Ohio tax system and reducing their punitive effects on business should be job one for Ohio lawmakers.

Next, lawmakers should simplify the individual income taxAn individual income tax (or personal income tax) is levied on the wages, salaries, investments, or other forms of income an individual or household earns. The U.S. imposes a progressive income tax where rates increase with income. The Federal Income Tax was established in 1913 with the ratification of the 16th Amendment. Though barely 100 years old, individual income taxes are the largest source of tax revenue in the U.S. system by eliminating those multiple brackets and moving toward a flatter system similar to those in Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Finally, Ohio should get out of the business of doling out incentives to lure business into the state. Fairness and experience tell us that lower tax rates for all are better than incentives for some.

Without sensible reforms soon, economic growth opportunities will pass Ohio by and the state’s finances will continue to worsen. Cutting the state’s tax burden and implementing pro-growth tax reforms can go a long way toward reversing these dismal trends.