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Since Ohio Governor John Kasich ran for office on a promise to gradually eliminate the state income tax, tax cuts have been almost constantly on the agenda in the Buckeye state. Last week, the state Senate advanced a $400 million tax cut plan that would accelerate already-scheduled income tax rate reductions and increase an existing tax break for “pass through” businesses, while providing much smaller tax breaks to low- and middle-income families. The plan next goes to a joint House-Senate conference committee.
An ITEP analysis of the Senate plan, featured in a newly-released report from Policy Matters Ohio, shows that these tax cuts next year would disproportionately benefit the best-off Ohioans: the top 1 percent of Ohio taxpayers, would receive an average tax cut of $1,846, while the middle fifth of Ohio taxpayers would see an average tax cut of $36. The poorest 20 percent of Ohioans would see a tax cut averaging just $4.
Ohio’s tax break for “pass through” business income (that is, profits that are taxed under the personal income tax as they “passed through” to the owners) is already one of the more misguided carve outs in the state’s tax law. Described misleadingly by its supporters as a “small business” tax break, it allows any individual to deduct 50 percent of a whopping $250,000 of pass-through income. The Senate bill would ramp up the deduction to 75 percent for one year. But a better approach might be to examine the wisdom of the deduction that already exists. Policy Matters Ohio’s Zach Schiller notes sensibly in the Columbus Dispatch that “[w]e certainly haven’t seen some big job surge since this tax break was created.” The true cost of the existing deduction remains uncertain. Since some eligible business owners appear not to be claiming it, the $230 million the deduction has cost this year alone will likely be much higher in the long term.
Faced with a ballooning tax giveaway that offers little or nothing to middle-income families, the sensible solution would be to pull the plug on this tax break. Instead, Ohio lawmakers seem poised to expand it.