Union coalition against Republican tax cuts

By MARC KOVAC Dix Capital Correspondent Published:

A coalition of union and advocacy groups is urging Gov. John Kasich and legislative Republicans to refrain from further cuts to Ohio's income tax rates, saying more funding is needed to pay for public services and to help local governments and schools pay their bills.

One Ohio Now instead is pushing for an expansion of Medicaid eligibility, a school funding formula that ensures educators can meet state requirements and an increased tax rate on oil and gas production, with the proceeds used for community services instead of further tax breaks.

"We've seen substantial cuts to some of the programs and services that Ohioans rely upon the most," said Gavin DeVore Leonard, the coalition's state director, during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "... This is a time to invest more in the future and to think about how we want to position Ohio going forward."

The group offered its comments about a week before Kasich is expected to unveil his school funding reform package, with his administration's biennial budget proposal coming shortly thereafter. The governor, who is in Switzerland this week speaking at the World Economic Forum, has been mum on details of the plans, indicating only that both will include numerous policy and law changes and reiterating the need to lower Ohio's tax rates as a means of spurring business growth.

One Ohio Now wants the administration to rethink the latter. Among issue areas it discussed Tuesday were:

• Medicaid Expansion: The coalition wants the Kasich administration to expand eligibility for Medicaid enrollment, a move that, according to a study released last week, would increase state tax collections, reduce the number of uninsured Ohioans and add to the state's work force numbers.

A failure to expand eligibility could leave more Ohioans without access to health care, which would hurt job-creation efforts, said Cathy Levine, executive director of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio.

"This is not good for a work force in a state that wants to strengthen its work force and attract employers," she said.

• School Funding: Barbara Shaner, associate executive director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, said she has no details of what the governor will propose concerning school funding reform.

However, she said local districts have been hit by the loss of federal stimulus and past tax reform efforts that cut into their state support.

Shaner said any new reform effort should include funding to ensure schools can meet state requirements for teaching and graduating students.

"The bottom line is school districts had less funding for the general revenue purposes of $1.6 billion of the two years that we're currently still in," she said. "We'd like to see some of that restored or perhaps all of that restored...."

• Tax Reform: One Ohio Now is not supporting Kasich's efforts to cut the state income tax, including a proposal that would institute a rate decrease in relation to collections from an increase in the severance tax on oil and gas production.

Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, said the most recent tax reform package passed by the state has not brought promised economic gains.

"Ohio has lost ground in personal income and in overall economic output," he said. "Our employment gains in 2012 did not erase this reality."

He added concerning the severance tax proposal, "The income tax is the biggest source of revenue for the state, and it has grown over time with the economy. ... You're exchanging one tax on a depleting resource with another that is based on the continuing income of all Ohioans on the long-term basis."

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