The 2020 Tax Policy Study Commission has issued its final report after a two-year review of Ohio’s tax system, but those hoping for a set of firm policy recommendations will likely be disappointed. That’s because the commission’s report comes down to one recommendation: Further study is required.
The bulk of the report’s 323 pages consist of copies of public testimony submitted to the commission. The only recommendation contained in the document is that the Tax Expenditure Review Committee conduct a more in-depth study moving forward. (Final Report)
“Although the (commission) heard testimony on the tax credits and expenditures, a more thorough review is needed and is required as part of the permanent Tax Expenditure Review Committee,” the report recommends.
Historic Preservation Tax Credit
By Oct. 31, 2016, the group had published its findings on the historic preservation tax credit, calling for stronger reporting and tracking requirements, increased disclosure of how much of the credit will support the proposed project, and regular budget language depicting the total allowable amount of credits that may be authorized during the biennium.
Sen. Bob Peterson (R-Sabina), who co-chaired the panel along with Rep. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), called the commission’s work a “great process” that resulted in plenty of information useful during budget talks earlier this year.
“Any time you have a focused look at this sort of information it’s helpful.” he said in an interview.
Despite the final report’s lack of conclusive recommendations, taking the view that the commission accomplished little would be inaccurate, he said. In addition to the final report, the commission released more detailed reports on the oil and gas severance tax and the historic preservation tax credit over the last two years.
“Certainly there’s more to do, but I would argue look where the state of Ohio was eight years ago or even two years ago in the budget you’ll find substantial changes in (tax) policy,” Sen. Peterson said. “It was a great process, a great opportunity to sit down and work with tax policy.”
Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire), one of two minority members on the committee, was less impressed with the process.
“I don’t think it was as productive as I would have liked it to have been,” Rep. Cera said, who added he expected the process would be more closely tied to tax proposals in recent state budgets.
“I thought the thinking was, ‘Let’s create this commission to look at where the tax policies need to be changed and be prepared for the next budget.’ Of course…with the revenue issues and everything, there really weren’t a whole lot of tax law changes.”
Sen. Charleta B. Tavares (D-Columbus), the group’s other minority member, acknowledged the brevity of the final report but said she agrees that tax policy expenditures need to be thoroughly reviewed.
“These are foregone taxes that reduce our budget revenues, and consequently, the amount of revenue that can be used to provide for the needs of our constituents,” Sen. Tavares said in a statement. “Since my time in the Senate, I have advocated for and sponsored legislation and amendments to create a Tax Expenditure Review Committee…. This committee is necessary to ensure that Ohio has a fair and effective tax system.”
The expenditure review committee was formed by legislation last session (HB9, 131st General Assembly) and was supposed to begin meeting in June 2017.
But legislative leaders failed to appoint members by the statutory deadline, only doing so in July following prodding from Policy Matters Ohio and subsequent media attention. The group, which has a July 1, 2018, deadline for a report, has yet to meet.
With the new report issued, the 2020 study commission now ceases to exist. The state budget (HB64, 131st General Assembly) that created the 2020 group called for the publication of a final report by Oct. 1, 2017. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, October 22, 2015)
The commission’s charge was fourfold: Recommend how to transition personal income tax to a 3.5% or 3.75% flat tax by 2018; explore how to make the historic rehabilitation tax credit more effective; study how to reform the severance tax to maximize competitiveness; and review all tax credits.
Policy Matters Research Director Zach Schiller said he’s glad the group didn’t move forward with recommendations for a flat tax. But he said the recommendation to shift the burden of discussion highlights the need to get the review committee working.
“I think this has made the work of this new tax expenditure review committee all the more important and it is somewhat and it’s unfortunate it hasn’t gotten started already,” Mr. Schiller said.
Regarding the lack of specific recommendations from the 2020 group, Mr. Schiller opined, “It’s better to kick the can down the road than make recommendations that aren’t fully vetted, but that said they spent quite a bit of time having a number of hearings and I hope it isn’t time ill-spent.”
The 2020 panel first met in October 2015, the same day a working group issued a report opining that any change in the Oil and Gas Severance Tax should be based on market conditions.