Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Story needs to be told: How Ohio Estate Tax battle was won

Vision of three men, sweat of hundreds of volunteers and courage of 81 state legislators strike bad tax

COAST Newsletter reported in July on the elimination of the Ohio Estate Tax as part of its reporting on the passage of Governor Kasich's budget. But what we did not properly do was to tell the story on how a ragtag band of volunteers, without the backing of any major financier, managed to re-write the Ohio tax code to eliminate a bad tax.

The campaign started with the vision of a single small business owner from Dayton, Ohio: Ron Alban. For decades, Ohioans had discussed eliminating the estate tax, the worst in the nation and one that was driving businesses and residents from the state.

Soon, Ron first signed up limited government advocate Jack Boyle from Cleveland and then COAST Board member Dan Regenold. They conceived of a state-wide ballot issue known as an "initiated legislation," that first forces the Ohio legislature to address the proposal, and if they won't act, to place the issue before the voters. Gena Bell, a influential Tea Party leader, joined the Coalition and brought the Tea Party and Liberty groups on board and was also responsible for gathering support within the Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ultimately, they enlisted 1700 volunteers, and collected 85,000+ signatures state wide.

In parallel, they brought together a coalition of grass root and traditional groups to support repeal. Grass root groups included COAST, tea parties, Americans for Prosperity, and the Ohio Christian Alliance. Support from traditional groups included the Farm Bureau, Funeral Directors, the Manufacturer's Assoc., Ohio Chamber and many more. National groups such as Americans for Tax Reform and the National Taxpayer's Union were enlisted in the cause.

When Republicans took over the Governor's office and both houses of the State legislature in November of 2010, instantly prospects of resolution short of a public vote improved. Governor Kasich had publicly endorsed the repeal during his election campaign.

Then, it got interesting.

The City of Shaker Heights in the Cleveland area, Loveland, Oakwood in the Dayton area, and a few other cities hired high-priced lobbyists at taxpayer expense to fight the volunteer, self-funded effort. Attorneys from COAST and the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law threatened these municipalities with a suit if they didn't repeal the funding using a "taxpayer letter" signed by local volunteer, 77-year old Sylvia DeFranco. Instead, of repealing the funding, the cities of Shaker Heights, Loveland and Oakwood sued their own taxpayer -- Ms. DeFranco.

Outraged by the litigation attack on the taxpayer, Americans for Prosperity sent an action alert to its members, and generated more than 60,000 messages to the Ohio legislature, condemning the tactics of the allied municipalities (using tax monies) and demanding the estate tax repeal. The coalition of groups from Ohio and Washington sent strong messages in support of repeal to Columbus.

Concurrently, a group of 19 House members urged Speaker Batchelder to assure the repeal was included in the final budget bill.

In the end, the repeal was included in the biennial budget bill, and Ohio's Estate Tax is history.

A big COAST salute goes to Alban, Regenold and Boyle. You have shown us the possibilities of citizen activism.

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