CINCINNATI — Millions of Americans, including thousands of people in the Cincinnati area, are now working from home with the pandemic shutting down their offices since last March.
Now, a growing number of remote workers are asking why they have to pay taxes to a city they no longer work in or visit.
On a quiet suburban street in West Chester, Ohio, you can see plenty of cars in driveways at midday, as people who used to commute to their jobs are now working from home.
Among these new remote workers is Austin Herman, a data analyzer who left his office in a downtown Cincinnati office tower back in March.
But he still has to pay city income tax to Cincinnati, with its 1.8% tax rate (reduced from 2.1% in October 2020).
"I don't vote for the city council there; I don't get the services any more, and I still have to pay," Herman said.
It's real money. If you earn $60,000 a year, a 2% income tax costs you $1,200 a year, which you pay to a city where you don't use any services.
"That's taxation without representation to me," Herman said."That's an issue. I am surprised they can still do that."
Frustration grows among remote workers, lawmakers
More and more workers and some state lawmakers agree.
A proposed law in Columbus -- Senate Bill 352 -- would prohibit cities in Ohio from taxing you, if you are no longer physically there for work. It was sponsored by State Senator Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, and is backed by the conservative think tank The Buckeye Institute.
Similar bills are popping up in statehouses throughout the country.
But even though you are working at a computer in your kitchen or bedroom, cities argue that your employer is still located within their boundaries.
And they desperately need that money to stay solvent in these tough times.
Cities claim they could be devastated by tax losses
Kent Scarrett represents Ohio's cities as director of the Ohio Municipal League and opposes SB 352.
"If we had a sudden loss in revenue, our larger communities would really see a challenge in funding police and fire, which makes up 80% of their general operating budget," he said.
Scarrett told WCPO that if remote workers stopped paying the tax, some cities might face bankruptcy.
He says Ohio's six largest cities would lose $300 million a year and might be forced to lay off essential workers and cut services.
But Herman said there has to be another way to raise revenue, especially since many remote workers may never return to their downtown offices.
"They're going to have to find better ways to fund these services going forward, not just during the pandemic," Herman said.
We reached out to the Cincinnati city manager and the Cincinnati solicitor's office for comment but did not hear back.
In the meantime, Ohio and most states now have emergency laws in place to continue taxing remote workers until the pandemic ends.
So for now, you have to pay those Cincinnati city taxes even if you are working in a spare bedroom in Butler, Warren, or Clermont counties, or in Kentucky or Indiana, so you don't get in trouble with the tax man, and you don't waste your money.
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