Q&A with Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer on Tax Climate for Business
Business implications of tax policy are much debated nationally as well as at state and local levels. As part of an examination of the central Ohio tax environment for business, Columbus CEO talked with Alex Fischer, president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, which works to improve economic vitality of the Columbus Region.
Q: How does the business community assess the tax climate in Columbus?
A: Tax climates aren't static but are dynamic. Businesses want to know what to plan for, what the costs are. We have a very competitive business tax environment, and more importantly, a business cost environment. The cost of living, combined with the cost of distributing goods, combined with our workforce, combined with taxation and other factors come together to create a very competitive environment from a business standpoint. And that's why we're seeing record job creation, and why publications and various outlets are recognizing the great growth that's happening in the Columbus marketplace from an economic development standpoint; certainly leading Ohio, leading the Midwest, and for communities our size, leading, in fact, the country.
Q: How is the tax environment different in recent years?
A: I start with what we saw a number of years ago with a comprehensive review of Ohio's business tax structure and recommended changes that have yielded economic benefits that are in large part what makes Ohio a competitive business tax structure. You certainly then have to factor local taxes into that equation.
One of the things I would observe, and I felt it when I first moved to Ohio from Tennessee, where I was involved in lots of tax policy, I think everybody would agree that the proliferation of local governments in Ohio-cities, townships, county government and multiple school districts-has in part caused Ohio's cost of local government to be higher than a lot of places. It has been years in the making. We still have a lot of work from an efficiency standpoint related to that.
Q: Are there developments underway to improve the local tax situation for business?
A: House Bill 5 is critical because of what happens with businesses that have multiple locations and operations in Ohio and then have multiple jurisdictions to do tax filing. House Bill 5 is a very important piece of legislation that is trying to simplify that. It goes to that core philosophy of consistency and predictability. You want to have an ease of doing business, and if you have to file in 10 different districts, it can be very cumbersome. You want to do everything you can to make that as easy as possible. We have seen Governor Kasich and other policy leaders drawing attention to all the jurisdictions and issues of how we create better economies of scale in cooperation with all the multiple jurisdictions of government.
Q: How should business, community and government leaders balance concerns of voters and taxpayers with the need to provide vital government services and infrastructure?
A: We believe very passionately that we have government in central Ohio that is not wasteful, that is prudent and exercises good financial stewardship. We're big fans of local governments that are holding down costs and are always looking for efficiency. It's why in the (2013 Columbus) school levy, we didn't start with the concept of wanting to raise revenues but actually put forth a plan to cut, through efficiencies, $200 million out of the budget.
Our businesses are always doing those kinds of things. We have to be always watchful and be in partnership with government to make sure they have that same philosophy, and I think we do in central Ohio.
Q: What is the role of the Columbus Partnership in the local tax environment?
A: We are active not passive. It's ongoing. We think about it and look at it as it relates to our economic development programs in a very active and regular way. It's not about doing a single study. It's about continuously paying attention, monitoring, studying, and being in continuous dialogue and conversation with our state and local policy makers.
Q: Did the lopsided defeat in the past year of the Columbus schools and zoo levies change things?
A: No, not at all. There were very specific and certain issues with both of those levies that voters spoke very loudly to, and there are lessons to be learned, but I don't think that drives a shift in how you think about long-term tax policy. It was on our agenda then, and it stays on our agenda now as something we remain keenly interested in.