Jail Tax Would Be Hardest on the Poor

The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners this week revealed its long-awaited plan for expanding the county jail: asking voters to increase the county’s sales tax by a quarter-cent.

Predictably, Sheriff Simon Leis and Cincinnati’s police union, which have pushed for more jail space for a decade, have endorsed the tax hike. Also putting his clout behind the proposal is millionaire financier Carl Lindner, who is a major contributor to many local politicians, including Commission President Phil Heimlich, who is seeking re-election this fall.

The commission’s two-member Republican majority said the increase is a good deal for the county’s homeowners because the plan also cuts property taxes by $32.5 million annually during the course of the 20-year sales tax hike.

What Heimlich and his GOP colleague, Commissioner Pat DeWine, haven’t mentioned publicly is that the $32.5 million reduction likely would occur even if voters reject the sales tax increase. That’s because the savings come from ending the levy for the Drake Center treatment facility in 2010, with its operations being assumed by the Health Alliance, and also reducing the amount of the indigent care levy beginning next year. Those actions are planned regardless of any changes to the sales tax.

Further, the sales tax hike provides a break for homeowners but shifts the burden to others, including non-county residents as well as Hamilton County residents who rent their homes, such as college students and poor people.

Moreover, the sales tax increase would raise Hamilton County’s rate to 6.75 percent, above the 6.5 percent rate in nearby Butler, Clermont and Warren counties.

“If you’re going to buy a car or open a restaurant, where are you going to go?” asked one business leader opposed to the plan, who asked for anonymity because of fear of retaliation. “Those are the counties we’re competing against.”

The anti-tax Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) supports the sales tax plan, noting it keeps the overall tax burden at or below the inflation rate. State Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr. (R-Mount Lookout), a COAST leader, added that the burden on students and the poor wouldn’t be significant because they mostly buy non-taxable items like food and medicine.

Todd Portune, the county commission’s sole Democrat, called the plan “not a bankable real solution.” Portune said, “For the Heimlich tax increase to work requires a vote of the people, and the history of voting for tax increases for jails is not a good one. This smacks more of election year politics than anything else.”
Heimlich countered that an opposing proposal asking voters to approve a downtown casino to help pay for the jail is unreliable.

“I’m not going to gamble with the safety of our citizens on some future slot parlor,” he said.

— Kevin Osborne

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One Comment on “Jail Tax Would Be Hardest on the Poor”

  1. Tom Brinkman Jr. (R-Mount Lookout), a COAST leader, added that the burden on students and the poor wouldn’t be significant because they mostly buy non-taxable items like food and medicine.

    “Research done at the University of California and elsewhere indicates that individuals with income low enough to be eligible for food stamps would, on average, spend about 45 percent of their income on goods for which they would pay sales tax.”


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