Columbus Voters Approve Hike To City Income Tax

by Mandie Trimble/Sadie Taylor, WOSU News (2009-08-05)

COLUMBUS, OH (wosu) – For the first time in almost 30 years Columbus will see an increase in its income tax. Voters approved the 25 percent tax hike – something Mayor Michael Coleman said needed to happen to keep the city afloat.

Issue One supporters, who had gathered at the Harrison West Community Center, cheered as Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman took the podium.

Coleman called yesterday’s election the most important in the city’s history. And he said the campaign was a coalition unlike any he has ever seen.

“A coalition of management and labor; business and employees; civic organizations and neighborhood leaders; religious leaders; political leaders; democrats, republicans coming together at a tough time in our city…”

Columbus has faced tough fiscal difficulties this year. It had to find some $30 million to balance its budget. And the mayor warned if the tax increase failed the city would see additional cuts to services and the laying off of about 600 police officers and firefighters.

But Tuesday night Coleman promised some of those cuts have been prevented.

“We won’t lay off a single police officer. We won’t lay off a single firefighter. We’ll continue to pick up the trash. We’ll have places for our young people to go in our rec centers,” the mayor said.

Exactly when voters will begin to see restoration to previous cuts like recreation centers is unknown. Coleman said it will not happen overnight.

The mayor and other city officials have promised budget reform if the income tax passed. For instance, the city pays for most of its employees’ pension contributions. Coleman says change is in the works.

“We had city council adopt legislation that said that supported the administration that we have to work hard, that over time, not overnight, of addressing the issue of pensions and health care benefits of our city employees. And that’s something we’re committed to do,” Coleman said.

The city’s new income tax will be 2-point-five percent. It’s expected to generate about $100 million in new revenue.

And this is Sadie Taylor. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the unofficial results show the income tax increase won by a close margin – by only about 3,000 votes.

Republican strategist Terry Casey says the close margin shows people are frustrated with city management.

“They haven’t had a balanced budget since 2001 and they ran through the rainy day fund during some sunny days so they need to keep the promises that were made. Because the margin was not that big that it means they’ve got a blank check to spend the money any way they want,” says Casey.

Bill Todd, who represented a group opposed to the tax, says the outcome might have been different if more voters had been included.

“More than half the people who pay this tax weren’t even permitted to vote, so it would be interesting to see, in fact, if everyone who paid the tax were permitted to vote, what the results would have been,” says Todd.

Casey says a lack of resources was an issue for the opposition. He says city hall had its staff campaigning on taxpayer time – and that the opposition didn’t have a million dollars in campaign money.

“It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a fair fight. But those are the rules and they had the money,” says Casey.

Todd agrees that more campaign money could have made a difference.

“Had both campaigns been equally funded, I don’t want to predict what the result would be, but I think it might very well have been different,” says Todd.

The income tax increase is set to take effect October 1st.

© Copyright 2009, wosu

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