Ohio’s taxman to collect ideas, not dollars, from fairgoers


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Nothing says Ohio State Fair like deep-fried candy bars, livestock contests, rides on the Midway — and a chance to talk taxes with the taxman?

With an eye toward the huge crowds coming to Columbus for the annual festival, Ohio’s tax commissioner has been making the rounds over the past week in an effort to collect ideas — not dollars, he jokes — from taxpayers.

Tax Commissioner Joe Testa sought to itemize a few of his priorities with fairgoers on Tuesday after belting out the Beatles tune “Taxman” at one event.

Testa then encouraged attendees to enter their names into a drawing to win a chance to meet with him in Columbus later this year to discuss ways to improve taxes in the state.

“We want to do more,” he told the audience. “We want to drive down taxes and make Ohio more taxpayer friendly.”

Testa said the administration of Republican Gov. John Kasich wants to incorporate any good suggestions from taxpayers into the governor’s final budget pitch this spring. Testa also spread the word at a magic show and log-sawing competition held earlier at the fair. Kasich has more than two years left in his second term.

“It would be wonderful if some idea, or more than one, from individual Ohioans we connected with at the state fair actually gets into state law next year,” Testa said. “Wouldn’t that be cool?”

Fairgoers could submit cards with their contact information at a tax agency booth for the chance to meet with Testa. So far, more than 70 people have entered. The department hopes to draw between 15 and 20 names for what the governor has described as “an unfiltered focus group” on taxes.

“I sure got some ideas,” Sharon Ross, a retired floral designer from Ross County, said as she filled out the card to place her name into the glass bowl for entrees. Homeowners are “carrying a full load,” she said.

Ross’s daughter is a widow with no school-age children and pays $2,200 a year in taxes, which she said wasn’t fair.

“Some way, we’ve got to create a system where everybody pays their fair share,” said Ross, who turns 73 on Wednesday.

Jean Alexander of Xenia walked by the agency’s booth but didn’t stop because she said she didn’t know what it was. The retired dietitian technician might have given the administration an earful if she had.

“Kasich brags about lowering taxes in Ohio, but what he did was push it onto the local level,” the 77-year-old Alexander said.

So why not share her ideas? “Would it do any good? I doubt it,” she said.

Such skepticism is natural, Testa said. But, he added, “We’re going to try to prove them wrong.”

Tax talk might be welcome this year, but bringing up the topic at the fair hasn’t always ended well for Ohio politicians, as the late Democratic Gov. John Gilligan found out the hard way.

Gilligan enacted the state’s first corporate and personal income tax in 1971 to raise money for dealing with those and other government priorities. On arriving at the state fair one day, a reporter asked if Gilligan was going to shear a sheep on the fairgrounds.

“I shear taxpayers, not sheep,” Gilligan said.

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