Study Says Ohio Should Raise State Revenue $817 Million By Revising 2005 Income Tax Reduction Act

Governor Ted Strickland made $733 million in budget cuts this year and it looks like that Ohio will continue to have big budget shortfalls. A study conducted by John Honeck, PH.D,. for Policy Matters Ohio and published in April of this year, “A Step Toward Fiscal Balance: Options for Ohio’s Income Tax,” says huge revenue shortfalls will continue to negatively impact Ohio’s capacity to meet its responsibility to its citizens or to plan for its future. The study says Ohio should raise state revenue by revising Ohio’s 2005 Tax Reduction Act (which reduced income tax by 4.2 % each year for five years for a total of 21%).

The study shows that freezing the state income tax at current levels (keeping the cuts already enacted by the 2005 law) and restoring the top rate that was in effect before the 2005 law was enacted would preserve $817 million in revenue in calendar 2009.

Honeck says, “Ohio State government has a responsibility to maintain a strong social safety net to help our residents through hard economic times, and to continue to invest in education and economic development to position Ohio for a better future.” He says, “A weakened revenue structure has negative implications for Ohio’s ability to meet rising demands for state services and invest in its future,” and cites the following:

  • Demands on the state’s safety net will increase in the near-term due to the recession, even as state revenues suffer. Medicaid, a joint federal-state health insurance program, accounts for 18 percent of state-only GRF spending. From July through December 2007, caseloads were 19,000 higher than original estimates.
  • Recessions are also a time when higher education enrollments go up. In this budget cycle, higher education became a priority again, and the legislature provided additional funding to enable a tuition freeze. Maintaining the tuition freeze in the face of rising enrollment will require even greater revenue commitments, let alone bringing tuition costs down to the national average.
  • The current state budget provides small foundation formula increases that do not come close to solving the K-12 educational system’s unconstitutional over reliance on local property tax revenue.
  • The state’s prison system is over 130 percent of capacity, having recently surpassed a level of 50,000 inmates. The recently-passed Adam Walsh Act and other legislation may lead to the incarceration of 2,000 to 3,000 more inmates aside from the effects of an economic downturn on crime.
  • The Department of Youth Services recently entered into a legal settlement that will require additional spending of up to $30 million per year for juvenile offenders.

Honeck’s statistics point out that Ohio’s 2005 Tax Reduction Act worked to make Ohio’s tax code less progressive — it is a tax reduction that puts into reverse a progressive tax code that as income increases, tax, as a percentage of income, also increases. In the 2005 Reduction, the top 1% of incomes received 26% of the total tax reduction, a reduction on average of 1.2% of income. Incomes in the lowest 20%, with incomes less than $17,000, the reduction amounts to only 0.2 % of income.

One of Honeck’s suggestions is that the 2005 tax reduction law be modified so that the the tax reduction called for in the 2005 law for the top 2% of incomes (in excess of $200,000) be rescinded. Honeck says that this action alone would raise a total of $376 million in 2009. Excerpts from the report:

  • Now is the time to begin examining the state’s options for raising revenue, both to avert a deficit and to invest in needed priorities. Policy Matters Ohio worked with the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a Washington, D.C., based research institute with a sophisticated model of state and federal taxation systems, to review some possibilities.
  • One of the state’s key fiscal challenges is to reform the income tax, which is the single largest contributor to state revenue and is our most progressive tax because of its tiered rates. It is the tax that is most capable of growing long term with the economy, particularly in an era in which income gains are concentrated among the wealthiest households.
  • We estimate that the cuts will reduce income tax revenues by approximately $2.22 billion in calendar year (CY) 2009 when compared to previous rates. Actual revenue losses may be higher because the estimates are based on 2007 income levels. This amount is greater than the basic annual operating subsidy provided to Ohio’s public colleges through the Board of Regents.
  • The slowing economy reduces income tax receipts even further. Income tax revenues have been below original budget estimates for five months in a row, including a 6.3 percent shortfall in March.4 Through the first nine months of FY 2008, personal income tax receipts are 2.4 percent, or $149.5 million, below annual estimates.
  • Continuing planned rate cuts in the current environment is irresponsible. We asked ITEP to model three possibilities: (1) freezing rates at 2008 levels, (2) restoring the original 7.5 percent top rate for the highest income families, and (3) and rolling back rates to 2007 levels. We recommend moving forward with the first two options immediately. The third option may be necessary if the state’s fiscal health continues to deteriorate. Raising the top rate back to 7.5 percent alone would raise approximately $376 million in annual revenue compared to today’s tax structure. The top rate applies to the highest income bracket, i.e., the share of a family’s taxable income above $200,000. If this action is taken, less than two percent of all Ohio families would experience an actual change in tax liability.
  • Freezing income tax rates at 2008 levels by itself would preserve approximately $441 million in revenue. Combining this action with raising the top rate back to its previous level of 7.5 percent would boost revenue by approximately $817 million in CY 2009.
  • In legislative testimony in February, Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director J. Pari Sabety outlined three budget options based on projected economic activity – low growth, zero growth, and recession. The administration is acting on the low growth scenario, which creates the need for a budget correction of $733 million. These cuts will result in the reduction of thousands of state employment positions and cuts to programs, including the closure of two psychiatric hospitals.
  • State government has been unwilling to craft a permanent solution to its fiscal problems. Our new tax system, which was put in place in 2005 (FY 2006), adds to the state’s budget challenges instead of solving them. According to OBM estimates, the 2005 tax changes, even when combined with savings from ending the state-subsidized commercial property tax rollback, create revenue losses on the order of two to three billion dollars each year depending on the baseline used for comparison.
  • As we face the prospect of another recession, it’s time for the state to develop a realistic tax system that is adequate to meet the long-term needs of our population and is progressive – that is, it taxes people according to their ability to pay.
  • The greatest savings (as a result of the 2005 Tax Reduction Act) both in terms of dollar amounts and as a percentage of income, will go to the wealthiest taxpayers. The top twenty percent of households will receive over 70 percent of the savings from the cuts, or $1.56 billion of the total $2.22 billion in tax savings. For the families in the lowest quintile, with incomes less than $17,000, the average savings is twenty dollars, or 0.2 percent of income.
  • The top 1% of incomes — starting at $339,000 and averaging $890,000 — the average annual tax savings is $10,273. This amounts to 1.2 percent of their income, on average. The top 1% of incomes, overall, receive 26% of the total state tax reduction.
  • The middle quintile comprises families with incomes between $29,000 and $47,000. The average income in this group is $38,000. These families will receive a tax cut of $187 on average, or about 0.5 percent of total income. This group will receive nine percent of the total $2.22 billion tax reduction in 2009, or about $208 million.
  • An enhanced income tax is the cornerstone of a realistic budget strategy. At a minimum the Administration and the legislature should freeze income tax rates at their current 2008 levels. Otherwise, the final rate cut in 2009 will cost the state $441 million in total foregone annual revenue. The state also should restore the previous statutory rate of 7.5 percent to the top income bracket of over $200,000. This action would raise a total of $376 million in 2009. Together, these two actions would boost income tax revenue by approximately $817 million next calendar year.
  • Less than 2 percent of all Ohio families would be affected by raising the top rate. The top one percent of Ohio families by income, who make at least $339,000 a year, would pay 92 percent of the increase. Only one-fifth of the families in the “Next 4%” by income would experience an increase (Table 3). Families affected by the increase would continue to receive the benefit of 2008 rates for the share of their income below $200,000.
  • Raising the top rate affects those who are most able to pay and who are best situated to reduce their federal income taxes through itemization. State and local income taxes are deductible from federal income, so a state tax increase leads to a reduction in federal income taxes on wealthy families. Almost one quarter of the increase would be passed on to the federal government.
  • This scenario increases the average state tax liability of the top one percent of families from $40,191 to $46,489. After the increase, total state tax liability would amount to 5.2 percent of the income of these families without taking into account federal deductions.
  • Ohio’s state government has struggled to find adequate revenues in this decade. The current policy of cutting income taxes over five years in the face of slowing economic growth, and possibly a recession, weakens our revenue base precisely at a time when the state should ensure a strong safety net. When the cuts are fully phased in next year, income tax revenues will be reduced by approximately $2.22 billion from their baseline level. Over $1.5 billion of the revenue losses from the tax cut will be captured by Ohio families in the top 20 percent of the income scale. More than a quarter will go to the top one percent of families, who make more than $339,000 a year.
  • Halting further cuts to the income tax and restoring the 7.5 percent rate for the top bracket is an immediate, necessary step to shoring up our revenue base. This policy brief focused on the income tax because it is the largest single contributor to the state’s General Revenue Fund. Other steps need to be taken as well, such as retaining the corporate franchise tax and closing tax loopholes.
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2 Responses to Study Says Ohio Should Raise State Revenue $817 Million By Revising 2005 Income Tax Reduction Act

  1. Joe C. says:

    Uh-oh. Hold onto your wallets. Another faux-“study” by PMO.

  2. John S. says:

    Somehow I doubt that Joe C. has read the report, or if he’s tried, he didn’t understand the numbers.

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