Cleveland Plain Dealer: Ohio legislative committee reviewing tax loopholes needs its own staff

Cleveland Plain Dealer

More than 125 tax exemptions of various kinds cost Ohio an estimated $9 billion a year — and they tend to grow over time.

That’s why, nearly two years ago, the General Assembly laudably created a joint Tax Expenditure Review Committee to review each of those loopholes at least once every eight years and pass judgment on their validity, cost and any unintended impacts, in order to recommend elimination, modification or retention of each loophole.

So far, given its lack of dedicated staff, the seven-member panel — composed of three members each from the Ohio House and Senate, plus Ohio’s tax commissioner or his designee — is working at a rather slow pace.

It’s reviewed and taken testimony on only a relative handful of tax loopholes, according to its first report, issued last month. Evaluated so far: the first 15 loopholes listed in the Ohio Department of Taxation’s Tax Expenditure report, all of them sales tax exemptions — for instance, for churches, out-of-state auto sales, etc.

So far, the panel hasn’t recommended changing any of them, despite testimony from some interested parties that the committee should take a broader look at sales-tax policies and at certain tax exemptions that are especially large or growing rapidly.

The law creating the committee requires the Legislative Service Commission’s staff “to assist the committee.” That’s not the same as having researchers assigned full-time to help out.

So the panel chair, Sen. Scott Oelslager, a Canton Republican, has wisely recommended in the committee’s recent report that the next General Assembly, to be seated in January, “consider hiring additional assistance to aid in the review process.”

Committee member Sen. Vernon Sykes, an Akron Democrat, recommended that the committee seek an appropriation of no more than $1 million in the next two-year budget and hire four to six full-time employees to assist in the panel’s research.

The details can be worked out. But the committee could use some staff help — and should get it.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

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