By The Associated Press
Cincinnati Enquirer. January 24, 2024.
Editorial: Another loss for Ohio: Supreme Court rules DeWine’s Super Bowl visit cost can stay secret
The DeWine administration argued disclosure of expense receipts could reveal information that could be used to attack the governor. We think that’s a stretch.
Win some, lose some. This one we lost. But the biggest losers are Ohio taxpayers.
In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the cost to taxpayers of sending a security detail to the Super Bowl with Gov. Mike DeWine is not a public record. DeWine took 19 family members to Super Bowl 56 between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. on Sunday Feb. 13, 2022. The Ohio State Highway Patrol sent troopers to protect the governor.
The Cincinnati Enquirer sued the DeWine administration, seeking information on how much the trip cost. But in a split decision, the Court ruled the requested records could be withheld because they fell under the security records exemption in the law. The DeWine administration had argued that disclosure of the expense receipts could reveal the size of the security detail, which hotels and rental car vendors they use, when they refuel vehicles and other information that could be used to attack the governor.
We think that’s a stretch.
During a time of extreme political volatility, unrest and even violence (see plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer), it’s understandable that there’s heightened concern about safety. But the Enquirer wasn’t requesting specifics about the strategy, procedures or placement of the governor’s security detail during the Super Bowl or even an itemized breakdown of expenses. We simply asked for a grand total of what was spent on the taxpayer-funded security detail for the duration of the trip. The notion that releasing that dollar figure could pose a danger to DeWine or sabotage future outings is absurd and an insult to every taxpayer in the state.
Supreme Court’s party-line decision ‘speaks for itself’
The Super Bowl was a unique event, at a specific stadium in a different state and city. This wasn’t like a trip the governor makes routinely, such as traveling from his residence to the Statehouse every day. There was no evidence shown that disclosing the cost of the security detail would provide any information that someone with ill intent could use down the road to harm the governor.
“This decision means a governor can go on a pleasure trip and spend a lot of taxpayer dollars – taxpayers paid for the security detail, lodging, transportation and food required for this period he was at the Super Bowl – and taxpayers just don’t have any idea how much that cost,” said Jack Greiner, a partner at Faruki PLL law firm in Cincinnati who represents Enquirer Media in First Amendment and media issues. “Was it a good thing he went or a bad thing he went? We really don’t know because we don’t have the information.”
What we can surmise is that the price tag for DeWine’s junket was significant enough that it would have caused him embarrassment if taxpayers found out. The governor’s defenders will point out that he and his wife Fran paid their own expenses, which is great. However, Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval also traveled to the game with security − one city police officer, whose expenses for the six-day trip, including a coach plane ticket, totaled roughly $6,000 − and the city responded to the Enquirer’s records request the same day it was made. Pureval also paid for the trip himself.
Enquirer Executive Editor Beryl Love said it best: “The fact this decision was made along party lines speaks for itself.” Four Republicans signed onto the majority opinion, while three Democrats signed onto the dissent, signaling to taxpayers that this case was less about their right to know and more about protecting one of its own.
How releasing the cost of security for the governor’s trip to Super Bowl 56 could pose a danger now or down the road is beyond us. But that information is valuable to taxpayers who want to make certain their elected leaders are being good stewards of their money.
Allowing the government to operate in secrecy is the real danger.
The Plain Dealer. January 26, 2024.
Editorial: HB 344 would help reduce voter confusion on Ohio property-tax levies
For sheer gobbledygook, Ohio’s real-estate property tax system – which dates to 1825 – is hard to beat. That’s why a proposal by two downstate Republicans in the General Assembly deserves passage.
Reps. Adam Mathews, of Lebanon, and Thomas Hall, of Middletown, are prime sponsors of House Bill 344, to eliminate “replacement” property tax levies in Ohio.
As cleveland.com’s Jake Zuckerman recently reported, replacement levies, if voters OK them, typically fund townships, schools, public libraries, and mental health and addiction service boards. But there’s a terminological problem. Ohio also authorizes “renewal” levies, which in the mind of some taxpayers may be synonymous with “replacement” levies.
Not so, the Legislative Service Commission (LSC) reports. A replacement levy lets the subdivision it funds benefit from the increases in property values that occurred during the span of the levy being “replaced.” In contrast, renewal levies remain based on property values at the time the levy being “renewed” was adopted.
“That is, unlike a renewal levy, a replacement levy” – of the same millage as the original levy – “allows subdivisions to realize the benefit of any increase in property values that occurred during the life of the existing levy,” the LSC, the General Assembly’s research arm, reported. Plainly put: Same tax rate, but larger tax take.
Of course, to be fair, a lot of the confusion goes back to 1976’s House Bill 920, now part of the Ohio Constitution. It uses “tax reduction factors” to offset inflationary increases in taxed property values. That, more or less, keeps the property tax that Ohioans pay at the level when the levy was first passed.
Concrete example, from the Ohio School Boards Association: With a renewal levy, “a 5-mill, five-year levy that has been (rolled back) by the (anti-inflation) reduction factor to 3.8 mills would be renewed at the 3.8-mill rate” – not 5 mills.
But the same 5-mill, five-year levy, if being replaced, would be reimposed at the former levy’s full, 5-mill rate, “(giving) the district the benefit of any growth in local value that occurred over the life of the previous levy.” Translation: Higher tax bill.
So, while “replacement” may imply that such a levy will collect no more revenue than the levy it is replacing, in fact – even at the same millage rate – the replacement likely would collect more. In the word-salad that is Ohio property tax law, that fact may elude voters.
Yes, by the same token, voters who are told they’re voting on a “5-mill” levy renewal are actually voting on a 3.8-mill renewal, and its millage will continue to decline as property values go up — more confusion and gobbledygook.
Still, Mathews and Hall, in sponsor testimony, noted that, “Renewals are easy to understand as they … (provide) the same bill to the homeowner and same benefit to the school district.”
“Replacements, however,” they said, “reset the effective millage due to property values rising and raise the tax bill on homeowners while, to many, appearing to keep the same ask …. This incongruity can lead to surprises by voters when they think they had just voted to keep things as they were, especially since districts could run elections stating, ‘This levy will not increase your tax rate.’” That may be literally so, but the amount of tax collected may well increase.
Among Statehouse lobbies testifying in favor of the Mathews-Hall bill were the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity-Ohio.
Local government associations generally oppose abolition of replacement levies, which, after all, do require voter approval and which fund vital public services. Among groups testifying against the bill have been the Ohio Library Council; a coalition of public school administrators and school boards; and the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.
Nicole Piscitani, deputy director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, told Zuckerman that replacement levies were comparatively rare in school levies. “Of 979 school levies that were extended over the past decade, only 40 of them were replacement levies,” she said.
That doesn’t alter the fact that the term “replacement” can imply entirely different things to different taxpayers. The underpinning of taxation, as with other governmental activities and initiatives, must be transparency. And transparent is one thing replacement levies aren’t.
Yes, replacement levies aren’t the only source of taxpayer confusion in Ohio’s convoluted property-tax system. But they’re one part of it. The House and Senate should pass HB 344 and send it to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk.
Toledo Blade. January 25, 2024.
Editorial: Trumpian candidate
In a televised debate on Monday among the three candidates for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, all three vied to be the most Trumpian, but Bernie Moreno stood out.
Mr. Moreno, a successful former luxury car dealer from Cleveland and an immigrant from Bogota, Colombia, demonstrated why he won the coveted Donald Trump golden ticket endorsement to take on U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in November.
The debate was conducted by Channel 8, WJW, the Fox affiliate in Cleveland on Monday. Answering the panel’s questions also were state Sen. Matt Dolan of Cuyahoga County and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
It is unfortunate that the questioners didn’t see fit to directly confront the candidates with the question of whether the election was stolen from Mr. Trump in 2020.
Mr. Trump makes that claim, and all of his supporters have to pay some obeisance to it, even though there’s never been any evidence of the kind of voter fraud that could have changed the outcome of the election.
Mr. Moreno went all in on the idea that Mr. Trump is the target of a politically oriented and coordinated campaign by various Democratic state attorneys general in New York and Georgia and the U.S. Justice Department.
Asked about the many cases filed against him, Mr. Moreno said, “All those charges are completely trumped up. These are insane judges.”
Mr. Moreno gave an exaggerated description of the character of the prosecutions of those who entered the Capitol illegally on Jan. 6, 2021, some of them using violence and intending to interrupt a legal and important session of Congress.
He said the defendants are in solitary confinement, are denied lawyers, and have no due process. There’s been no reporting that supports that claim.
Mr. Moreno compared the crime of the Jan. 6 insurrections to the torching of a Wendy’s restaurant by protesters in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and said that that the Wendy’s protesters were let off more lightly.
It was pointed out that immediately after the riot he referred to the rioters as “criminals” and “morons.” More recently he joined those calling them “political prisoners.”
In his answer, Mr. Moreno said some were criminals, but some were “mothers” and “grandmothers” who were “walking peacefully” in the Capitol and are now in jail for it.
Mr. Moreno goes out of his way, rhetorically, to identify with the insurrectionists who tried to intimidate Congress to abandon its vote to certify the 2020 election that was won by Democrat Joe Biden. Unlike the then-President, Congress handled itself bravely that day, returning in the wee hours to carry out its duty to the Constitution and the voters.
Mr. Moreno called Mr. Trump “the best president of our lifetime.” Mr. Moreno was born in 1967, so he apparently doesn’t rank Ronald Reagan as high as Mr. Trump.
Nothing that Mr. Trump might have accomplished during his four years as President will wipe away the stain of his attempted abuse of power to stay in office, contrary to the will of the voters.
Ohio needs U.S. senators who respect the truth. Mr. Moreno, with his rhetoric, reinforces dangerous falsehoods.
Youngstown Vindicator. January 28, 2024.
Editorial: Legislature must act on death penalty
Capital punishment hangs in an awkward state of limbo in Ohio these days. Yes, the death penalty remains on the books, and yes, 122 men and one Howland woman await their fate on death row.
But no, justice has not been served. Those inmates have been waiting an awful long time; some have died of natural causes before an actual execution date had been set. Since the current capital punishment law was adopted in 1981, only 56 of some 341 death sentences have been carried out. In the past five years, zero executions have taken place. That’s a concerning track record, particularly for families of victims and others seeking long-delayed delivery of a deliberative jury’s well-reasoned verdict.
These long delays have resulted largely from Gov. Mike DeWine’s moratorium on executions following challenges attempting to use common execution drugs here and in other states. Ohio’s current law, however, permits only lethal injections as the Buckeye State’s method of execution.
That’s why DeWine recently told this newspaper’s editor he sees no executions happening in Ohio throughout the end of his term in 2027.
“Our law says we can only do executions by lethal injections,” DeWine said. “I have been very public about saying what the drug companies have told us that they very well could retaliate, and if we use one of their drugs for lethal injections, they could retaliate, which could impact our health department, other departments being able to get the drugs they need to help people in the state of Ohio.”
DeWine has shared that concern with the legislature, yet lawmakers have taken no action to amend the law.
Attorney General Dave Yost offers some poignant perspective on this plight: “The bottom line: Ohio’s death penalty is a farce and a broken promise of justice — and it must be fixed.”
We agree and call on members of the Ohio General Assembly to resolve this dilemma. Members could opt, as several other states have done, to adopt an alternative form of capital punishment, such as electrocution, lethal gas, hanging or firing squad. Further, they could act to limit the number of permissible appeals for convicts who repeatedly abuse the criminal justice system.
The other option, of course, would be to abolish criminal executions in the state. Two bills in the Legislature — Senate Bill 101 and House Bill 259 — aim to accomplish that. These bills, however, have been languishing in legislative committees for months.
We fully realize this issue is highly divisive, with Ohioans and Americans carrying very strong and differing beliefs. Because of that, we do not believe it is our place to opine on maintaining or abolishing this issue that triggers such passionate feelings.
However, we do believe doing nothing is not the answer. And from our perspective, that’s exactly what Ohio’s legislature has done. Frankly, it appears state House and Senate members have lacked the political will to fix what Yost most accurately calls “a broken system.”
If for no other reason, lawmakers should act in the name of fiscal responsibility. A state estimate shows death sentences have cost Ohio taxpayers up to $384 million to care for and carry on seemingly never-ending legal casework for death row inmates. Some estimate the cost of caring for death row inmates is five times higher than the cost of care for those sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole.
Another major reason to act expeditiously lacks any numeric price tag. The emotional turmoil endured by families seeking justice for decades for their murdered loved ones is compounded by the seeming lack of any hope in sight for closure
Consider the case of the Mahoning Valley’s Danny Lee Hill Jr., a poster child for what ails capital punishment within the criminal justice system. Yost calls Hill’s case a microcosm of the system’s failure.
Hill of Warren has been on death row for 38 years and, in that time, has filed more than 25 appeals in his successful effort to delay death. So far, that strategy has worked just fine for him.
“Danny Lee Hill raped, tortured and murdered a 12-year old Warren boy, Raymond Fife, in 1985,” Yost said, adding that his ability to repeatedly delay what a jury determined to be just punishment for his unspeakable crimes just reinforces how broken the system is.
Ohio should not allow this state of limbo to endure much longer. It is costly to Ohio taxpayers and it is insensitive to heartbroken survivors of victims.
That means it is time for the Legislature to act: Abolish capital punishment or adopt other means to ensure justice delayed too long for too many no longer is justice denied.
Elyria Chronicle. January 26, 2024.
Editorial: Eliminating state income taxes would be risky
It’s often said that no one likes paying taxes, but what’s frequently left unsaid is that taxes are a necessity if government is to function.
Which is why Ohioans should be worried about a pair of bills introduced by Republican lawmakers in Columbus to phase out the state income tax over the next six years.
Last year, the state collected about $13 billion from income taxes and the commercial activity tax, or CAT tax, which Republicans also want gone.
As state Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, correctly pointed out to us, lawmakers have been “nibbling away” at the state income tax for years, including in the budget passed last year.
Miller also was rightly concerned about the impact on state revenue if either of the plans to eliminate the income tax became law, a long-term GOP goal. (The House and Senate versions would operate slightly differently, but the end result is the same.)
Republicans have yet to fully explain how they would deal with the lost revenue, although cuts to government services and increases in other taxes, such as the state sales tax, are very real possibilities.
Neither of those are good options.
Cuts could eliminate vital services that folks expect or even rely on their state government to provide.
A sales-tax hike would be regressive, hitting those least able to afford it the hardest. The same would apply if the state were to greatly increase fees for services.
Then there’s idea, popular among conservatives, that lower taxes would spur a surge in economic growth, offsetting whatever losses would be created by nixing state income taxes.
“Eliminating the state income tax will change the lives of Ohioans for the better,” state Rep. Brian Lampton, R-Beavercreek, said in a news release. “Our goal is to make Ohio the best place to work, live, and raise a family.”
State Sen. George Lang, R-West Chester, predicted that the tax cuts would cause Ohio’s economy to grow from about $750 billion to $1 trillion by 2030, the Statehouse News Bureau reported.
That would be great if it happened, but that’s a big if.
Then-Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, made similar promises of booming economic growth when his state began implementing of drastic tax cuts in 2012.
It didn’t work out that way. State revenue fell precipitously over the next few years, which led to cuts in government service and credit downgrades, among other problems. In 2017, the state legislature reversed the tax cuts.
Lang dismissed the failed “Kansas experiment,” as it was known, by pointing out that the Sunflower State didn’t have Ohio’s natural gas resources, according to the Statehouse News Bureau.
Closer to home, Ohioans saw what happened when state income taxes were reduced during the tenure of former Gov. John Kasich, a Republican. Among the ways the state dealt with reduced income-tax revenue was to raise the state sales tax and reduce the amount of money it was sending to local governments, many of which raised local taxes to make up for the losses.
If the state were to again reduce the money it sends to municipalities, libraries and other entities, local governments might need to ask voters to raise taxes locally to make up for shortfalls.
Those efforts could be complicated by an unrelated bill that would prevent local governments from asking voters to replace rather than renew property tax levies. Renewals are fairly straightforward and don’t increase taxes, but replacements take into account present day property valuations, allowing more taxes to be collected.
Republicans in favor of that bill have argued that voters have a difficult time telling the difference between renewals and replacements. If that truly is a problem, the better option would be to change what replacement levies are called rather than limiting the options of local governments.
State Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, told us he hadn’t fully reviewed the income-tax elimination proposals, although he said he favored lowering the tax burden on Ohioans.
He said he liked the gradual approach the proposals would take because they would allow the state to change course if there were budget problems or the economy went south.
State Rep. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, likewise was open to the idea of gradually reducing state income taxes, although she said she was mindful of the risks of cutting services that people depend on.
State Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, told us that while he generally supports reducing or even eliminating the state income tax, he hasn’t looked at the current proposals enough to form an opinion on their feasibility.
“I’m supportive of the concept,” he said. “But obviously the devil’s in the details.”
Stein was, however, skeptical that the General Assembly would be able to act on either proposal this year given the impact of elections on the legislative calendar.
Even if Republicans don’t succeed this year, their dream of eliminating the state income tax won’t go away.
Nor will the need to fund state government.