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Legislative Alert: HB 47 vs. HB 123
HB 47 vs. HB 123
AUTHOR: Melanie Elsey, Legislative Director
March 27 2007

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SUMMARY

Two pieces of legislation closely linked to one component of state policy -- taxation of churches via assessments levied by watershed conservancy districts -- have been introduced and are scheduled for hearings in the Ohio House Economic Development Committee on Wednesday, March 28, 2007.

The focus of HB 123 is to address the illegal property taxation of churches and church camps. This is also a core part of HB47 which addresses this issue in the context of illegally taxing nonprofits. A critical difference in HB 47 is that it more completely addresses the root cause of the bigger problem needing to be solved. This illegal taxation of churches places a substantial tax burden on several ministries, in addition to church camps, in Central Ohio. If churches are forced to pay this tax, a precedent for additional taxation on churches may follow across the state. Because churches and non-profit ministries raise voluntary donations dedicated to works of service, they have always been tax-exempt in the state of Ohio. If the government begins to siphon dollars from non-profits there will be less money available to help those in need.

HB47 is the initial bill under consideration and does much more toward addressing the bigger problems of taxation and the legal operations of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD).

ACTION

We urge all Ohioans to contact members of the House Economic Development Committee and urge immediate passage of HB 47. It would be equally important to contact your own state representative and state senator and ask them to vote for this important reform measure.

Ohio House Economic Development and Environment Committee:
Representative Thom Collier (chair): 614-466-1431 district90@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative James Zehringer (vice-chair): 614-466-6344 district77@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative James Aslanides 614-644-6014 district94@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Courtney Eric Combs 614-644-6721 district54@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative John Hagan 614-466-9078 district50@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Jim McGregor 614-644-6002 district20@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Steve Reinhard 614-644-6265 district82@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Carol Ann Schindel 614-644-6074 district63@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Gerald Stebelton 614-466-8100 district05@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Jeff Wagner 614-466-1374 district81@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Larry Wolpert 614-466-9690 district23@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Michael DeBose 614-466-1408 district12@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Brian Williams 614-644-5085 district41@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Ted Celeste 614-644-6005 district24@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Kathleen Chandler 614-466-2004 district68@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Tracy Heard 614-466-8010 district26@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Matt Lundy 614-644-5076 district57@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Dale Mallory 614-466-1645 district32@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Robert Otterman 614-644-6037 district45@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Robert Hagan 614-466-9435 district60@ohr.state.oh.us
Representative Peter Ujvagi 614-644-6017 district47@ohr.state.oh.us 

BACKGROUND

Problem in Need of a Legislative Solution: The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) covers part or all of 18 counties. MWCD prepared a budget and plan of taxation two years ago that unveiled administrative practices and taxation policies that are out of control.

House Bill 47:
* changes the governance structure in the MWCD by eliminating the use of common pleas judges and establishes a different structure for the board of directors

* enhances oversight, accountability, and transparency to the public

* prohibits the levying of an assessment by the MWCD on property that is not directly benefited from the assessed project

* prohibits the MWCD from assessing property that is otherwise exempt from taxation (i.e. churches, church camps, other nonprofits, schools, local government jurisdictions HB 47 protects churches (and other ministries) and reigns in an out of control bureaucracy.

House Bill 123:
* prohibits any conservancy district from the levying of an assessment on land that is owned by a church or on which a church operates a camp

Both bills correctly seek to preserve a strong historical protection of churches from intrusive governmental authority. HB47 however, addresses the cause of the problem as well as the symptoms and is the proper approach to improving public policy for the broader community. It would be a mistake to support the narrow approach of HB123.

The method used to apportion the assessment to various property owners was done without relation to the benefit each property owner would receive. Some churches and nonprofits would be taxed hundreds or thousands of dollars each year, while others would be expected to pay as little as $12. For churches, any amount of taxation violates the principle of exemption. For others (residents, business owners, and other nonprofits), these proposed unvoted taxes offer no public accountability.

Especially troubling is the concept of taxing property for projects that haven't been proposed, let alone completed. The budget proposed by the MWCD for $270 million over 20 years offers no specific details for projects. This tax first, build later approach violates the statutes under which the MWCD operates.

All of this controversy unveiled an even deeper problem: the oversight of MWCD by the Conservancy Court, comprised of one common pleas judge from each county in the district. This archaic process violates the principle of separation of powers. Judges are not supposed to be administrators of public policy. This collection of judges is required to oversee administrative practices, approve the assessment methods, adjudicate appeals, etc. These are legislative, executive, and judicial functions all rolled into one body. This is the bigger problem.


 

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