Legislative Wrap-Up: Tax & Economic Policy

The General Assembly has now recessed, and lawmakers have returned to their districts to begin focusing on their fall re-election campaigns. The Senate is scheduled to be back in Columbus for two weeks beginning in late September, while the House won’t return until after the November 8 General Election.

Our Legislative Wrap-Up blog series will recap the accomplishments and also highlight a few things that the Ohio Chamber will continue to push for when the legislature returns later this year. There will be seven blog posts, each focusing on specific policy areas. Part six will detail tax and economic policy.

In the area of tax policy, 2016 was the reverse of the previous year. Much of the first part of 2015 was spent ensuring that the proposed personal income tax rate reductions contained in the two-year state budget were achieved without a harmful tradeoff of increased business taxes or tax shifting onto Ohio businesses. In contrast, during the first five months of 2016, significant progress was made towards achieving some of the major parts of the Ohio Chamber’s tax agenda.

House Bill 182, supported by the Ohio Chamber, makes several positive revisions to the Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) law. JEDDs are essentially contracts for infrastructure and other development between a city and a township that are financed through imposing a municipal income tax on businesses and employees located within the township. JEDDs were created as an economic development tool primarily for townships in 1995, since townships can only levy property taxes, not income taxes. The bill grants new protections for businesses, including allowing a landowner or business owner to apply for exemption from a JEDD and permitting designated parcels of land to be excluded from a JEDD. HB 182 passed both the House and Senate and is awaiting Gov. Kasich’s signature.

House Bill 390, the bill containing the important unemployment compensation debt repayment plan, was also the vehicle for an amendment that will protect utilities and their business customers from unwarranted local tax increases. Specifically, the amendment repeals the authority counties currently have to impose a “utility service tax” that could be up to three percent of a business’ electric, natural gas and telecommunications bills. Even though the authority to impose such a tax has been on the books since the late 1960s, dramatic changes in technology and the competitive environment for utility services have rendered this tax unworkable and potentially unconstitutional. The Ohio Chamber strongly supported removing the authority to levy this potential tax.

The House Economic and Workforce Development Committee passed House Bill 343, legislation sought by the Ohio Chamber that would repeal the sales tax on employment services. Since 1993, sales tax has been charged on transactions where a company contracts to obtain personnel or temporary labor through an employment service provider. What is most objectionable is that the six to eight percent sales tax is levied not only on the service provider’s fee, but also on the wages earned by the workers – something which no other state taxes. This amounts to charging a sales tax on creating jobs and is the major reason the Ohio Chamber opposes this tax and supports this bill. HB 343 is awaiting a vote by the House of Representatives.

Another bill that would achieve a long-standing Ohio Chamber objective is Senate Bill 288, which lowers the withholding tax rate on pass-through entity (PTE) business income from five to three percent. Moreover, with the first $250,000 of PTE income now exempt from personal income tax and the rate on income above that amount capped at three percent, the gap between the lower withholding rate and the tax rate PTE business owners actually pay on their income is reduced and therefore will allow them to keep more of their own money to support their business. SB 288 is currently pending in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Two other tax-related bills moved forward in the first half of 2016 and those are Senate Bill 264 and House Bill 466, both of which are supported by the Ohio Chamber. SB 264 extends the successful sales tax holiday Ohio first experienced in 2015 for another year. The bill exempts clothing, school supplies and instructional materials from sales tax during the first weekend of August.

HB 466 exempts digital advertising services from sales tax. This bill is necessary to prevent the Ohio Department of Taxation from assessing auto dealers, in particular, for advertising on internet websites. However, there is a related issue of great interest to the broader business community that needs to be addressed – that is, an expanded interpretation of what constitutes a taxable “electronic information service” potentially resulting in more businesses being assessed sales tax for conveying information electronically. While HB 466 is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to remove the uncertainty surrounding the taxation of electronic information services.

Finally, the 2020 Tax Policy Study Commission – a legislative commission created last year to review the state’s tax structure and policies to maximize Ohio’s competitiveness – has been meeting once a month so far this year. The Ohio Chamber testified on the subject of tax expenditures in February, expressing support for a periodic review of the cost and results of all 128 current tax credits, deductions and exemptions.

 

The final part in our series will cover workers’ compensation policy.

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