Last Minute Anti-Lawyer Language in Ohio Budget Could Be Unconstitutional

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The budget compromise reached last week was lauded by politicians on both sides of the aisle. State Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) supported the bill but criticized a last-minute provision that appears to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. A previously existing tax break will no longer apply to lawyers and lobbyists under the new budget.

The document provided by the Conference Committee to highlight the final changes in House Bill 166 states:

Meaningful Tax Relief: The plan cuts personal income tax rates by 4 percent across the board. For low income Ohioans, the plan eliminates the personal income tax for those who earn less than $21,750. The plan largely retains current law for the Business Income Deduction (BID), but excludes lawyers and lobbyists from eligibility to use the deduction. Overall the plan represents a $630 million tax cut over the biennium.”

The “meaningful tax relief” promise rang hollow to Huffman, who lambasted the carve out on the Senate floor during debate.

“There is one provision which to me is extraordinarily troubling and that is the provision regarding the removal of the BID [business income deduction] for lawyers and lobbyists,” he said.

Huffman went on to explain that last minute changes removed the right for Ohio lawyers and lobbyists to take a business income tax deduction that are available to every business in Ohio.

“If you live out of state, in a border city, and drive into Ohio to work as an attorney, you still get to take the BID on your Ohio income tax, but attorney’s who live and work in Ohio do not,” Huffman told his fellow senators. “If you lobby local government or the federal government, you still get the BID. But if you lobby state government you do not.”

The Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) shared Sen. Huffman’s concerns.

“This amendment, which was crafted behind closed doors with no opportunity for public debate, is not only constitutionally flawed but poorly drafted,” CEO Mary Amos Augsburger said in a Thursday statement. “It will lead to many unintended consequences, raising taxes not only for the intended targets of the amendment—lawyers and government affairs professionals—but potentially all who employ them.”

The test for Equal Protection requires a “rational basis” for the law, Huffman said.

“It’s difficult to tell what [the rational basis] is because we haven’t had any hearings on this; there’s no public testimony,” he said. “So really we don’t know what the basis is at all, much less a ‘rational basis’ which is what courts will use in determining whether this is a violation of Equal Protection.”

“This kind of malice really shouldn’t stand,” he continued. “And I would ask you to consider what profession is next. Who are we going to decide we don’t like?”

The OSBA encouraged members to contact Gov. Mike DeWine’s office to request a line-item veto. The calls and emails fell on deaf ears, despite the fact that DeWine himself is an attorney, in a family of attorneys, and most recently served as Ohio’s Attorney General – the lawyer for the state.

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Beth Lear is a reporter at The Ohio Star.  Follow Beth on Twitter.  Email tips to bethlearreports@gmail.com.

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