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Opponents of sales tax hike fight deadline to get enough signatures for November referendum

Hamilton Co. commissioners passed 0.2 percent hike
Posted at 5:56 AM, Jul 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-17 19:54:34-04

CINCINNATI – Opponents of the impending sales tax hike in Hamilton County are racing a Wednesday deadline to get enough signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot.

Matt Wahlert said getting the required 27,500 signatures seemed impossible at first.

"It seemed like a mountain that was going to be too high to climb, but the people have reacted positively,” Wahlert said.

He’s trying to give Hamilton County voters the chance to say no to a 0.2 percent sales tax increase that county commissioners approved by a 2-1 vote.

Right now, everything you buy in Hamilton County has a sales tax of 7 percent. Unless voters reject the increase, the sales tax would be go up to 7.2 percent in October until 2020. Then it would drop to 6.95 percent when the Union Terminal restoration tax expires.

The increase may not sound like much, but it does to Wahlert.

"It's going to hit my constituents as a North College Hill council member,” he said. “These are the folks that it may make a difference for - folks on fixed income for a Christmas present for a granddaughter. The folks that make less, with sales tax, get hurt the most. It's regressive."

Wahlert said commissioners Todd Portune and Denise Driehaus, who voted for the increase to close a $28 milion budget gap, “hit the easy button.”

“To them, an additional tax was the solution to the problem. It may be what they actually need, but I don't think they've drilled deep enough to save money," Wahlert said.

Portune, appearing on WCPO’s “This Week in Cincinnati, said the sales tax increase is the preferred way to plug a big budget gap.

"We specifically chose this vehicle because of the tax fatigue that exists with property owners,” Portune said. “Some of the other options we had were to eliminate the property tax rollback. We didn't want to do that. That helps to benefit property tax owners."

County Recorder Norbert Nadel said that’s why he supported the sales tax.

"I reluctantly endorsed this because it is the lesser of evils as opposed to property taxes," Nadel said.

Nadel said he fears what commissioners may do if voters reject the tax.

"My fear is … they won't cut what should be cut. They'll cut essential services,” said Nadel.

Opponents have been collecting signatures for three weeks. They say they’re hoping to get 33,000 or more in case many are not validated.