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Taxing Times in Ohio Battleground

GOP wrongly accuses Democrat of reversing her tax stand.

October 12, 2006

Modified: October 12, 2006

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Summary

The National Republican Congressional Committee is going after Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy for violating a "no new taxes stand" that – in fact –she  never took.

The NRCC's ad says she voted to double the county sales tax and supported a county budget containing $94 million in new  taxes and fees. That's true, though it lacks context. The sales tax went from a half-cent on the dollar to one penny. The $94 million increase had Republican support when it passed, and is mostly made up of the previously mentioned half-cent increase in the sales tax.

But the charge that Kilroy "reversed her position" is false. In her 2004 re-election campaign she specifically refused to take a no-tax pledge when asked to do so, saying only that a tax increase was "not on the agenda."

Analysis

Despite the fall foliage, the Ohio 15th isn't a pretty place these days as Pryce, a seven-termer and the fourth-ranking House Republican, dukes it out with Kilroy. No less a figure than Tom DeLay, the pugnacious House Majority Leader who resigned last June, has said this is a race he's watching as an indicator of whether Republicans' mounting woes will put them in minority status when election results are tallied.

NRCC "Kilroy was Here"

 Announcer: Taxes are too high. The culprit: Mary Jo Kilroy.
(On screen: Taxes are too high)

Announcer
: She took a no new taxes stand but Kilroy voted to double the Franklin County sales tax.
(On screen: Mary Jo Kilroy. No New Taxes?)
(On Screen: Mary Jo Kilroy. Voted to Double Franklin County Sales Tax)

Announcer
: It gets worse. Kilroy then voted for a budget with $94 million in new taxes and fees.
(On screen: Mary Jo Kilroy. Voted for $94 million in taxes and fees)
Announcer: That's right. Mary Jo Kilroy reversed her position, raised our taxes. When it comes to taking more of our hard-earned money, Mary Jo Kilroy was here.
(On screen: Mary Jo Kilroy was here.)
(The National Republican Congressional Committee paid for and is responsible for the content of this advertising )

The National Republican Campaign Committee's ad began running Oct. 6.

Cue the Tax-and-Spend Refrain

"Taxes are too high," says the announcer in the spot. "The culprit: Mary Jo Kilroy. She took a no new taxes stand but Kilroy voted to double the Franklin County sales tax." This misrepresents Kilroy's position on taxes. During her 2004 re-election campaign, she specifically refused to make any promises, as the local daily newspaper noted in a July 18, 2005 story:

Columbus Dispatch: During her re-election campaign last year, Kilroy said a tax increase was "not on the agenda," but the Democrat refused to issue a no-tax pledge.

It's true that Kilroy left herself some obvious wiggle room, and used it. Shortly after the story above was written, Kilroy and another commissioner voted to double the county sales tax to a penny. A quarter-cent of that will expire at the end of 2007. Currently, then, the total sales tax paid by shoppers in Franklin County is 6.75 percent, with 5.5 cents going to the state, a quarter-cent going to the Central Ohio Transit Authority and a penny going to the county. The higher tax raised $88 million to help erase a $55 million budget deficit, replenish cash reserves that the county had been tapping for several years and avoid deep budget cuts. It took effect as the state was reducing its sales tax by half-a-cent, so consumers experienced no overall increase.The tax increase was urged by, among others, the county sheriff, who said public safety would be threatened if he was forced to make deep cuts. He practically begged the commission to double the quarter-cent increase it had been considering, which it did.

Boosting the Budget

Kilroy did, as the announcer says, vote for a budget last December that included $94 million in new taxes and fees. So did her two fellow commissioners, a Republican and a Democrat. The $1.38 billion plan was meant to end a four-year habit of draining the county's cash reserves to balance its books, and the $94 million includes revenue from the increased sales tax (see above, with $44 million scheduled to go into the cash reserve fund) as well as money from a voter-approved levy for expanding the Columbus Zoo and other revenue generators. Budget cuts were also part of the overall plan.

by Viveca Novak

Sources

 Vitale, Robert. "Franklin County; Sales-Tax Increase Remains an Option," The Columbus Dispatch. 18 July 2005.

Vitale, Robert. "Politics of Sales Tax Debated as Start of Hike Draws Near," The Columbus Dispatch. 25 September 2005.

Vitale, Robert. "Democrats Seeking Control: Party Hoping to Regain Commissioners' Board for the First Time Since '85," The Columbus Dispatch. 18 October 2004.

Vitale, Robert. "Fees, Taxes Boost '06 Budget; County's $1.38 billion Plan will Rebuild Reserves," The Columbus Dispatch. 21 December 2005.

Vitale, Robert. "Franklin County Budget; Sheriff Wants Half-Cent Hike in Sales Tax," The Columbus Dispatch. 14 July 2005.

Vitale, Robert. "County Increases Sales Tax; Infighting Punctuates Commissioners' Vote," The Columbus Dispatch. 29 July 2005.

Vitale, Robert. "Deadline Passes with No Opposition to Franklin County Tax Hike," The Columbus Dispatch. 30 August 2005.