Elyria Chronicle-Telegram: Diapers, guns and taxes

From diapers needed in the cradle to firearms that could put people prematurely in the grave, Ohio lawmakers appear to be in a sales-tax-cutting mood.

One bill, which would eliminate sales taxes on diapers and other necessary child-care items such as car seats, strollers and cribs, passed the Ohio Senate Wednesday with bipartisan support.

It now moves to the Ohio House for consideration, although Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, has discussed adding the measure to the state budget lawmakers are working on.

If the bill becomes law, it would save parents between $23.4 million and $38.6 million in 2024 alone. It would, however, reduce state tax revenue by the same amount. That money goes toward funding state and local government.

Despite the loss in government income, it would be a worthy investment given how expensive raising children can be.

In an analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data last year, the Brookings Institution estimated that it costs more than $310,000 to raise a child from infancy to age 18. With the rising cost of getting by, that number will only grow in the coming years.

Rich or poor, all parents need diapers and the other items covered in the bill to care for their young children.

On the other end of the spectrum is a bill introduced by state Sen. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, that would exempt firearms and ammunition from state sales tax. (Schaffer also was the primary sponsor of the bill that would do away with sales tax on items for young children.)

“This is the least we can do to make owning a firearm for self-defense, hunting, and sport more affordable for the average Ohioan,” Schaffer said in a statement to The Columbus Dispatch.

State Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, another backer of the bill, said eliminating sales taxes on guns and ammo would help keep sales in Ohio.

Cutrona estimated that scrapping sales taxes on guns and ammo would cost the state between $15 million and $20 million annually, The Dispatch reported.

While doing away with sales taxes for child-care items makes sense because parents simply can’t go without them, that’s not the case with firearms and ammunition. People can and do survive without them, however much some gun advocates might insist that owning weapons is the only way to keep oneself safe.

Eliminating sales tax for firearms and ammunition is only one portion of Schaffer’s bill. It also would offer up tax and other incentives designed to lure gun manufacturers to Ohio.

Whatever one’s views on guns are, there’s something to be said for trying to bring businesses to the state. It’s a discussion at least worth having, although it should be noted that Ohio has already proved itself adept at persuading businesses to relocate here. (See Intel’s $20 billion chip-manufacturing project outside Columbus.)

In any event, the proposed sales-tax cuts swirling around the Statehouse do raise the question of how far lawmakers are willing to go to eliminate sales taxes on various items and how that will affect the state’s overall budget. There’s also the question of the downstream impact of such cuts on municipalities, schools, libraries and other local entities that rely in part on funding from the state.

Over the years, Ohio has been slowly chipping away at what sales tax is charged on, and it has mostly been to the good. For instance, the state rightly stopped charging sales tax on feminine hygiene products in April 2020.

Ohio lawmakers are fond of pointing out that the state government is flush right now. However, that money will last only so long, and sooner or later some economic crisis will strike, necessitating the state to dip into its cash balances and reserves.

Moreover, Republicans are eager to slash state income taxes. Some cuts will likely end up in the budget working its way through Columbus.

That’s part of a broader GOP goal of eventually eliminating the state income tax altogether, but Republicans haven’t committed to a way to replace the lost revenue if they are successful. One plausible option, which would hurt most those least able to afford it, is raising the sales tax.

The more sales-tax exemptions enacted, the higher such an increase likely would need to be to offset the loss of income-tax revenue.

That’s something that should worry Ohioans of every age.