Chris Widener, Republican Senate Candidate, Boasts About Tax Cuts, But How Will He Solve Ohio’s Budget Crisis?

I’ve been noticing ads on local TV for Chris Widener, a Republican who is seeking election to the state senate from the 10th Senate District — Clark, Greene, and Madison Counties.  Widener, who has represented the 84th Ohio House District since 2001, brags in the TV ads that as representative he cut taxes for Ohioans by legislating the 2005 Income Tax Reduction Act.

What Widener doesn’t say in his ads is that this 2005 tax cut, like the Bush tax cuts, made Ohio’s tax code more flat and, by doing so, greatly favored the wealthy.  I analyzed the tax cut in this article:  “Ohio’s 2005 Tax Reduction Law Diminished, By 21%, The Progressivity of Ohio’s Tax Code.”

The 2005 tax cut, when fully implemented, will decrease revenues to the state by about $2.2 billion.  Policy Matters Ohio shows that, of this $2.2 billion, fully 26%, or $572 million, will go to incomes in excess of $339,000 (averaging $890,000).  See PDF here.

Widener is an architect.

Does Widener (at left) have "the guts to tackle the tough issues facing us”?

In addition to revenue loss from this 2005 Tax Reduction Act (which also included a big reduction in business taxes), Ohio is facing a big loss in revenue to the state, because the whole economy is slowing to a recession level and Ohio’s tax revenues are slowing proportionally.  Thankfully there are budget experts who have insight to all of this and one such expert is Richard Sheridan.  He paints a gloomy picture and I write about it here: Ohio Budget Expert, Richard Sheridan: “Ohio’s Budget Problems Are A Long Way From Being Solved And One-Time Fixes Have Dried Up.”

The dramatic decrease in state revenue will mean that Ohio will be forced to make some big adjustments in its next budget. Without finding new sources of revenue, it looks the state will be forced to make a big constriction in Medicaid benefits and other social services to the needy, just at the time when the number of Ohioans facing a personal economic crisis is dramatically increasing.  Decreased revenues will mean the state will need to make big cuts in spending on education, and big cuts to local governments.

On his web-site, (which includes a video of his impressive interview with Katie Couric about his legislation concerning Ohio’s payday lending laws) Widener says, “Our next Senator must have the guts to tackle the tough issues facing us. We must reduce the burden of state government on families and small businesses; act ethically, and focus on the  people’s business.”

Reducing “the burden” of government sounds like that Widener is echoing the Republican line and seeking even additional tax cuts.  His views on taxes should be a point of discussion and explanation in this campaign.  A lot of people, particularly in time of recession, don’t see government as a burden, but see government as a source of help and assistance.  Widener’s espousing of the  Republican doctrine of small government seems greatly out of touch with the reality that many voters in the 10th Senate District face.

I’ve spoken by phone to Widener’s Democratic opponent, Roger Tackett. I’ve not met him in person, yet. Tackett is an interesting man, a Vietnam veteran who suffered injuries in the war that left him handicapped, in a wheel chair. He has managed to get elected  Clark County Commissioner, running as a Democrat in a rural area that usually votes Republican.

I’m urging Tackett to speak the truth about the state’s financial crisis and how this crisis will impact the poor, impact educational opportunities for Ohioans.  I’ve barely started to research what a reduced budget, with spending matched to Ohio’s starved revenues, might look like.  It is one thing to talk in rosy terms of making government smaller and reducing taxes, but eventually such talk bumps up against economic reality.  And reality in Ohio is getting pretty scary for a lot of Ohioans who increasingly will look to government for help.

I think Tackett, along with other Democrats seeking election to the General Assembly, should say, flat out, that if elected, he will seek to boost needed revenues to the state by rescinding the income tax cut for the wealthy.

In his TV ads, Widener brags about his role in producing the tax cuts, but he makes no mention of the recession and the fact that Ohio is facing a severe revenue crises. (Just this year, the governor has announced over $1.2 billion in budget reductions.)  The 2005 tax cuts that Widener championed and that he now brags about, in fact, amounts to a transfer of wealth from the poor and the middle class to the wealthy.  It was argued at the time that such transfer was needed to bring about greater “tax fairness” in Ohio, because, the argument goes, prior to 2005, the wealthy in Ohio were being taxed at an “unfair” rate.  The concept of what makes for “tax fairness” should be at the center of State Assembly election campaigns.

Widener, and every legislator, should be able to define what is “fair,” what is in the general good.  Policy Matters Ohio warns that the legislature may want to make up for decreasing state revenues by increasing the rate of sales tax — and this would amount to transferring more wealth from the poor to the wealthy.

“Given the looming budget deficit, the state would have to finance such a reduction through increases in other taxes, “ says Policy Matters Ohio, “Some news reports have indicated it might be paid through the sales tax. However, lower and middle income taxpayers pay a greater share of their income in sales tax than upper-income taxpayers do.”

The state needs money.  Do we raise the sales tax or the income tax and how exactly?  What is the most fair way?

This election should center on important and real questions about government, about the purpose of taxes, about government’s responsibility, about “fairness,” about the social contract. As Widener says, “Our next Senator must have the guts to tackle the tough issues facing us.” Yes.  We needs legislators with guts, but, more importantly, we need legislators who have guts and who also are guided by sound principles defining fairness, defining the role of government. It is unrealistic to think a candidate, who has shown no courage to deal with the actual issues and challenges facing Ohio in his or her campaign, will suddenly get the guts to do so after the election.

We still have a month to go in this election campaign. Candidates to the Ohio Assembly, like Widener and Tackett, should demonstrate they have the guts to level with voters.

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