Proposed state tax increase worries Mahoning officials

Commissioners fear angry voters will defeat a county sales tax.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners are keeping a wary eye on state budget discussions taking place in Columbus.
They're especially concerned about the prospect of the state Legislature imposing a 1 percent increase in the state sales tax, raising it to a total of 6 percent.
The tax, if imposed, would be a temporary, two-year measure. It could be removed after just one year if Ohio voters approve legalization of video slot machines at Ohio horse racing tracks as a revenue source for state funding.
Commissioners said they are worried about the impact a state-imposed sales tax could have on their effort to renew a county sales tax, which expires next year.
Mahoning County has two 0.5 percent sales taxes on the books, each of which brings in about $12 million a year. Combined, they make up about half the county's general fund revenue.
One of the taxes will expire Dec. 31, 2004. The other was renewed by voters in November for another five-year cycle.
Looking ahead
County Administrator Gary Kubic said if the state imposes an increase in the state sales tax, it could cause voters to reject the county's renewal effort, since that's the only tax they'll be able to vote on.
"It's a competing interest," Kubic said. "We're going to have to put on one great campaign next year."
Commissioner David Ludt said he'd considered proposing a consolidation of the two half-penny taxes and seek voter approval of a permanent, 1 percent county tax next year. He said that would be difficult enough to pass on its own, but especially hard in the wake of a state tax hike.
"But we really don't know yet which direction the state is going to go, so we're just stuck waiting to see," Ludt said.
Commissioner Ed Reese said all of Ohio's counties are on hold with budget planning until after the state decides what it's going to do.