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News Release

November 14, 2007 - Nation's Tax Experts to Converge on Columbus

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio’s state capital will also play the part of the nation’s tax capital for three days this week when it hosts the National Tax Association’s 100th Annual Conference on Taxation.

The conference, to take place at the Hyatt on Capitol Square on Thursday through Saturday, is expected to lure 300 of the nation’s leading tax academics and tax administrators to Columbus for discussions on tax theory, practice and policy.

The Buckeye State will be well represented. During a Friday luncheon, Ohio Tax Commissioner Richard A. Levin will discuss Ohio’s ongoing tax reform efforts, including a repeal of the tangible personal property tax that has been a “sore thumb” of Ohio taxation for decades. Two other Ohio Department of Taxation administrators plan to share methods for forecasting revenue for Ohio’s new commercial activity tax (CAT), which is gradually replacing two older business taxes: the tangible personal property tax and the corporate franchise tax.

Overall, the convention marks a return to the roots of the National Tax Association, a nonpartisan, nonpolitical organization that was launched 100 years ago at the invitation of then-Ohio Governor Andrew L. Harris.

Unhappiness with Ohio’s tax system – particularly personal property taxes on everything from household items to investments such as stocks and bonds – was strong when Governor Harris invited governors of all 44 other states to Ohio for a national discussion of state and local taxation. At least 33 states and three Canadian provinces sent state officials to Columbus, where several governors were joined by dozens of academics and tax administrators from Nov. 12-15, 1907.

“City a mecca of economists,” declared a front page headline in the Ohio State Journal. Local media gave the conference front page coverage throughout the week – coverage which shows some striking similarities between then and now when it comes to taxes.

One of the themes of the 1907 conference was the need for greater uniformity in state and local tax laws. “The absence of any broad, rational, logical, uniform system of taxation for city, state, and nation is not only unjust theoretically, but absolutely destructive to intelligent voting on the merits of government, the very foundation stone of any republic,” Massachusetts Governor Curtis Guild Jr. told the convention. Guild urged tax laws that “bear more easily on the weak, more heavily on the strong, but at least so universally that weak and strong may alike appreciate when government is bad and when it is good.”

Uniformity remains an issue today; it is at the heart of a multistate effort, called the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, intended to make sales tax laws more uniform across state lines.

But there were major differences between then and now, too. In 1907, sales tax uniformity wasn’t an issue because most states didn’t have sales taxes. There was no federal income tax and no federal estate or inheritance tax (although President Theodore Roosevelt had recently proposed one).

Back then, much of Ohio’s state and local tax revenue was from the property tax – including taxes on personal property such as furniture and household goods. And while Ohioans’ unhappiness with personal property taxes prompted that first National Tax Association convention, reform of the personal property tax was a slow process.  

It wasn’t until 1929 that the Ohio Constitution was amended to allow personal property to be taxed differently than land and buildings. Two years later, the Ohio General Assembly eliminated taxes on tangible personal property – such as cars and household appliances – unless it was used in business.

Tangible personal property continues to be taxed when used in business in Ohio, but this practice will largely come to an end next year, when businesses pay their last personal property tax bills as part of reforms enacted in 2005.

Levin, the Ohio tax commissioner, said the ideas presented at this year’s conference may not make today’s or tomorrow’s headlines, but they will have lasting influence.

“This conference isn’t going to mean policy changes next month or even next year,” Levin said. “But the cutting-edge ideas discussed these next few days may become conventional wisdom 10 or 20 years from now.”

Note: For more information on the National Tax Association, including a schedule of its  events in Columbus, visit www.ntanet.org.

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For more information, contact John Kohlstrand at (614) 644-3858 or Mike McKinney at (614) 466-5461.