The 16-year state senator for Butler County and the man who will replace him both said Friday that the office has been used to seek lower tax rates for businesses and that is likely to continue going forward.
State Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., is leaving office after 16 years in the Ohio General Assembly. He and State Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., spoke Friday in a video-based interview about Coley’s tenure and Lang’s goals going forward.
Coley said a friend once told him one of the first things you should do after starting a new job is attend someone’s retirement ceremony to “learn what’s important.”
Before he took office, “I started thinking, ‘What am I going to say as I leave office in 16 years?’
He decided taxes would be an important measure.
“When I started, the top-end tax rate in Ohio, the highest bracket, was the fifth-highest in the country,” he said. “It’s now 28th or 29th.”
On the other hand, he and Lang said Friday, local governments also add taxes: “We have more local taxation than most states,” Coley said.
“I think we’re in a much better place than when we started,” Coley said. At that time, the unemployment rate was 6.1 percent. Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, “we were below 4 percent. We’re doing our thing of attracting business to the state and making Ohio a better place for young people to stay.”
“We were No. 1 in the country for a place people 25 to 34 would leave,” he said. “Fortunately, we’re getting a grip on that.”
“In the capital budget back in 2007, I inserted a provision relative to the digital learning clearinghouse — the whole concept of distance learning — and everybody said, ‘Nobody’s ever going to learn this.’ Then covid strikes 13 years later, and all of a sudden, that’s how we’re educating people. So it’s a positive thing.”
Lang was elected in November to fill Coley’s seat and spoke about his goals in a video conference the two held to discuss the year ahead.
“My focus will always be on making Ohio more business-friendly,” Lang said. He listed areas he will focus on, including reducing regulations; tax reform and simplification; making government smaller.
Some 53 years ago, he said, Ohio had 24 congressmen. The average Ohioan was earning 10 percent more than the average American.
“About 53 years ago, we implemented the income tax, not just on individuals, but on profits of corporations. One tax after another, one taxing jurisdiction after another, and regulation after regulation after regulation,” Lang said.
Ohio now has the fifth-highest rate of people leaving for other places, “and the No. 1 reason people leave: better economic opportunity elsewhere,” he said.
“Fast-forward to today, we’re down to 16 congressmen,” he said. “We know when the census comes out, we’re going to go down to 15, maybe 14, and no other state is getting their (butt) kicked as bad as Ohio as far as loss of representation. And by the way, the average Ohioan today makes 12 percent less than the average American.”
“We were working on a lot of pro-business things in the legislature last year, and two things got in the way of just about everything going on,” Lang said. “And that was the covid as well as the scandal involving the Speaker of the House (Larry Householder). So with those two things in the way, many things that we were working on were put on the sideline and did not get accomplished.”
In the state budget, “we lowered taxes for all Ohioans, and we preserved the business income deduction, for all small businesses — every single small business, every single farmer in Butler County takes advantage of. That was the main thing I worked on in the budget, and to be quite honest, I failed in the House. I could not convince the speaker of the house to get this done, so I took my fight over to the Senate after it passed out of the House, and the senators agreed to support it,” Lang said.
The speaker did not believe in giving incentives to businesses, he said. Instead, “he wanted to give incentives to individuals, and it was just a fundamental difference we had.”
He also expressed pride in his “commerce uniformity” bill, which was prompted because some local governments were trying to impose taxes on plastic bags. That legislation will expire in a year, “so we’re going to have to work again on that bill,” Lang said.
Another big focus for him in 2021 will be workforce development, including finding ways to help inmates and others with criminal records find jobs.