Union County Commissioner Gary Lee listened avidly when Gov. John Kasich outlined his new, two-year, $63.3-billion budget on Monday.
By the time Kasich was finished, Lee could only say one thing with certainty:
"The dang proposal is so complicated it would take a Philadelphia lawyer weeks to get to the bottom of it."
Lee also it put it another way, "Do you notice the more I talk about it, the more complicated it gets?"
In a nutshell, Kasich wants to broaden the state sales tax to include previously exempt business activities, such as coin-operated laundries, bowling alleys, barber shops, parking lots and even attorneys and accountants. To offset the broadening, the state sales tax -- if the budget is approved -- will be reduced from 5.5 percent to 5 percent and the 88 counties will see their piggyback sales tax reduced to varying degrees by a formula designed especially to protect low-revenue counties.
Lee stressed that the commissioners' response to Kasich's budget was as tentative as the governor's speech itself.
"He gave us the outline of a proposal but now he has to go back and write a text in the next 30 days," Lee said. "Then the budget will have to pass through the Senate and the House of Representatives in the late spring."
But based on Kasich's initial announcement, Lee determined a likely scenario moving forward: "I think you'll see counties helped by this proposal, counties who won't be affected one way or another, and counties who will be real losers.
"I think Union County will be in that middle group, that we'll end up after all the calculations are made and the new sales tax regime becomes operational, pretty close to where we started."
Lee said it would be interesting to see how the sales tax changes would affect intensely retail-oriented Delaware County, which has seen a boom over the last decade. And he worried that poorer counties, especially in southeastern Ohio, could be adversely affected.
"The governor has promised that counties will be held harmless and at least in as good a stead as they were in 2012," Lee said. "Of course, when they enacted the Commercial Activity Tax in 2005, they told us it wouldn't affect the counties and we lost out on $1 million a year in revenue."
Kasich said he wants to broaden the tax base in order to make a $2.1 billion a year income-tax cut that will be phased in over the next three years, starting with a 7.5-percent reduction after the budget takes effect July 1. The income tax would drop 7.5 percent and the second year and 5 percent in the third. The top marginal tax rate would decrease from 5.925 to 4.74 percent.
"One of the things the governor proposed was to allow up to a 10-percent growth in county sales tax revenues over the next three years, money that we'd get to keep," Lee said. "The Union County commissioners, if we looked out three years, assuming the economy continues to improve, we'd probably estimate about a 10-percent increase. So the proposal shouldn't slow us down."