Matt Owens

Ohio Enacts Bill to Protect Customer Access to Natural Gas

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Posted by Matt Owens on Thursday, July 22nd, 2021, 1:42 PM PERMALINK

Radical groups have been attacking natural gas in Ohio. In particular, they have been trying to pass local measures that block new natural gas hook ups, putting Ohioans are at risk of losing access to reliable, affordable energy.

Fortunately, legislators have responded to this threat, passing House Bill 201 to prevent municipalities throughout the state from passing legislation that restricts natural gas. Governor Mike DeWine quickly signed HB 201.  

Sponsors of the bill argued that it was important to keep natural gas prices from rising from unneeded restrictions. Natural gas has reliably kept Ohio warm for years, but that has been jeopardized by predatory local regulations designed solely to achieve radical left-wing goals.

Natural gas supports 375,000 total jobs in Ohio, contributing $59 billion to the state’s GDP, according to a new study

“This would be an incredible problem for people across the Buckeye State if we don’t get out in front of this,” Senator Rob McColley said during floor debate on the bill. A small but troubling number of cities on the east and west coast have passed fuel price increasing restrictions, now Ohio residents can feel more secure about their future energy bills.

According to census data Compiled by the legislative service commission, over two-thirds of Ohio residents use natural gas for heat, 25% for electricity. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jason Stephens stated that this legislation will safe guard the Ohio economy and benefit all citizens, “Here in Ohio, we want to promote a fair market for all Ohioans, consumers, to have energy options that work best for them — this legislation helps make that a reality… With this bill, I’m ensuring my constituents; all Ohioans and businesses have accessibility within their communities to the abundance of natural gas that our great state has preserved.”

The bill also ensures that customers who want natural gas have a right to purchase the product “the right to obtain any available distribution service or retail natural gas service from a natural gas company with capacity to provide”. This is a win for consumers both in their liberty to patronize what energy service they prefer, and ensuring low prices and competition. This bill continues Ohio’s track record of being one of the least expensive energy states in the country.

Republicans have scored a major win by passing this latest piece of energy legislation. In order to protect consumers, advocates of limited government are having to use state preemption as a tool to stop cities from hampering or banning all sorts of products.

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Ohio Sports Betting Bill Is Getting into Competitive Shape

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Posted by Matt Owens on Friday, May 28th, 2021, 5:23 PM PERMALINK

Neighboring states better watch out as Ohio’s proposed sports betting bill is in good shape, and may even improve.

On taxes, Senate Bill 176 is ultra competitive, with a 10% tax rate on bets. Tax rates around 15% and up reduce betting activity. This keeps consumers in the black market, where proceeds can go to shady causes.

High taxes also make it more difficult for sports books to succeed, which threatens growth, job creation, and competition.

Lower taxes are better, and Iowa and Nevada sport the lowest sports betting tax rates at 6.25%, but Ohio’s proposed rate is primed to compete with overtaxed Pennsylvania, and Indiana’s 9.5% tax rate.

The bill distinguishes between two types of licenses that will be offered, type A licenses and type B licenses. There will be 20 licenses issued for type A and type B licenses each.

Type A licenses are for mobile gambling, and will allow the license holder to have a potentially unlimited amount of partners. No other state in the country has yet taken this open approach of having uncapped partners for online betting. This would allow a very open, competitive market that will let consumers decide which products they prefer.

Sen. Kirk Schuring said of the distinction, “Under the Type A license they can hire, as an operator, a mobile application. Now I’m not showing preference to anybody, but just to make sure what we’re talking about, it’s the FanDuels, DraftKings, Barstool, whatever. We’re going to let the free market decide that.”

A key aspect of the Type A licenses is that they will not only be licensed to existing operators. The bill was expressly written to be open ended towards which entities could be eligible for a Type A. As many expect a handful of likely applicants, the processes was modeled to allow open competition for any company closely tied to Ohio to apply.

Type B licenses represent traditional brick and mortar sports books and will be given to a number of businesses large and small. As of recent changes to the bill, casinos and “racinos” will be eligible to receive type B licenses.  

Ohio’s SB 176 offers many market oriented reforms and a large degree of openness and competition with some caveats, while it also avoids major regulatory pitfalls a couple states have fallen into.

Sponsors Senators Niraj Antani and Nathan Manning have introduced SB 176 in the Ohio Senate, and expect a vote in late June. Ohio has considered sports betting for a number of years. In 2020, a sports betting legalization bill passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.

Photo Credit: Flickr - RubberToe

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Washington Senate Passes Unconstitutional Capital Gains Income Tax

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Posted by Matt Owens on Wednesday, March 31st, 2021, 4:09 PM PERMALINK

Washington State is considering a new capital gains tax, SB 5096, that would levy a 7 percent tax on profits from selling stocks, bonds, and other assets. If passed, Washington will be the only state without an income tax with a standalone capital gains tax. Washington State is also one of the few which have a constitution that prohibits an Income tax. According to long-standing IRS precedent, this proposed tax would flagrantly violate the state's constitution. When many industries are struggling to survive, many have criticized the legislation as being a tax hike when few can afford it.  SB 5096 passed in the Senate on March 6th and is now up for debate in the House of Representatives. 

The proposed Capital gains tax in Washington is a total violation of the state's constitution. The IRS has unequivocally stated that Capital gains taxes are an income tax. The Proposed tax is not levied on any specific sale, good, or service, such as the Washington real estate excise tax, it is instead imposed on net income from investment. Capital gains taxes are classified as income taxes both federally and in every other state in the country. The attempt to invent an "excise tax on capital gains" is unprecedented. 

Representative Dan Newhouse spoke out against the bill, questioning its adherence to the state constitution, "In 2018 I asked the IRS about the treatment of capital gains and whether it is considered an excise or an income tax. Their answer was clear and concise. 'It is an income tax. More specifically capital gains are treated as income under the tax code and taxed as such.".  

Despite healthy revenue streams, Washington politicians are still pushing to raise taxes. According to recent projections from the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, Washington plans on bringing in an additional 3.2 billion through 2023 including a net 760 million dollar surplus. Senator Lynda Wilson used this news to criticize Washington's plans to create new taxes "I think this is unprecedented news ... that should quell the talk of the need for increasing taxes or creating new taxes". 

Business owners have spoken out against the tax, arguing that the new law will stifle growth in Washington's booming technology industry. Randa Minkarah, cofounder and president of Resonance AI argued that the bill would slow down Washington's dynamic start up scene "I strongly support continued investment in state programs to strengthen childcare and education. However, this newly proposed tax comes at a time when revenue is increasing. And a new tax is not necessary to fund these programs.". 


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U.S. Senate Candidate Jane Timken Commits to Oppose Tax Hikes

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Posted by Matt Owens on Wednesday, March 24th, 2021, 3:54 PM PERMALINK

Jane Timken, former Chair of the Ohio Republican party and current U.S. Senate candidate in Ohio, announced she has signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. The pledge is a written commitment to voters that a candidate or elected official will oppose tax increases.

That strong, public commitment to taxpayers should give them confidence Timken will protect their pocketbooks if she becomes the next U.S. Senator from Ohio.

In Washington, President Biden has led a full-on assault on taxpayers, giving Ohioans plenty to worry about as the administration and Democrats in Congress push tax hikes, job-killing policies, attack affordable energy, and undermine state election law and the right to free speech and association.

Ohioans will need staunch defenders in the nation’s capital.

Timken’s competition in the race includes former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, Michael Leipold, and Mark Pukita.  As of late March, Jane Timken is the only primary candidate running to have signed the pledge, formally committing to oppose tax increases.

A Democrat has yet to officially declare a bid for the Ohio 2022 senate race although many see Tim Ryan and Dr. Amy Action as potential contenders. Despite 4 Republicans currently declared, more may well enter the race.

Ohioans should pay attention to which candidates publicly commit to protecting taxpayers, and remind candidates who have not made that written commitment that they too can sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.


Photo Credit: Jane Timken

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Opportunity for Tax Relief in Nebraska

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Posted by Matt Owens on Tuesday, March 16th, 2021, 12:04 PM PERMALINK

A recent study by wallet hub shows that Nebraska's overall property tax burden is 8th highest in the nation. Governor Pete Ricketts of Nebraska recently spoke out about putting together a plan to end this vicious cycle of high property taxes in his state. For years Nebraska's state government has sought ways to provide tax relief for their residents. However, local governments continue to raise property taxes year after year. Nebraska's property tax collections per Capita are 340 dollars higher than the national average. Politicians have promised to address the property tax issue for years in Nebraska without delivering. However, many are hopeful about the Governor's new plan.

Governor Pete Ricketts has proposed a budget including a 1.5 percent per year limit on state spending and a 3 percent growth limit for local governments' spending. The Governor believes these spending limits will be the reform necessary to implement long-lasting change in the state's Tax system. Ricketts argues that spending limits will influence these government entities to curtail their size and scope, which will slow down ever-rising property taxes. Governor Ricketts detailed the problem facing his state in a recent address:


"We have to make sure that the state tax relief doesn't simply result in new spending by local political subdivisions like cities, counties, community colleges, natural resources districts, and schools. Here's how the process has worked in the past: Local property taxes go up faster than income and inflation. Nebraskans pay higher property taxes. The state delivers property tax relief. Local property tax bills continue to go up. Taxpayers see no real relief because the relief from the state is needed to cover the higher property tax bills they get from political subdivisions." 


Governor Ricketts also plans on expanding property tax relief programs to make sure that Nebraska citizens have money in their wallets immediately, especially during the hardships residents have endured under COVID. For years Nebraska has used Property tax credits to offset the rapidly inflating property taxes in the state. Despite the program's good intentions, it is used as a tool to kick the can down the road on real reform. However, more tax credits in conjunction with severe budget limitations could be the structural change Nebraska needs. Nebraska residents will be pleased to know that the property tax credit fund will continue to expand, ensuring immediate tax relief. At the same time, residents wait for the Governor's structural changes to influence the course of the state's budgetary future.  Nebraska has an excellent opportunity right now to set the course for deep-rooted changes. Nebraska has a budget surplus.


Nebraska has fared better than expected during the COVID lockdown, and Governor Ricketts is using healthy tax revenues as an opportunity to curtail government spending and address long-standing issues the state has suffered from for years. Nebraska's property tax burden has hurt its economic rankings for longer than many imagine, slowing down the state's growth and competitiveness. Nebraska Has ranked 36th in economic outlook according to ALEC's most recent study, primarily due to its high tax burden. Nebraska has been long overdue to address this perennial problem; structural reform is needed to address these rising taxes. Despite the challenge, many are optimistic the Governor's recent plan is a step in the right direction. 


Senator Lou Ann Linehan, Chairwoman of the legislature's revenue committee, has been an outspoken critique for tax modernization in Nebraska. In a recent zoom meeting, reports indicate the senator was enthusiastic about attacking Nebraska's property tax quagmire head-on "Nebraska is living with a 1967 tax code and needs to consider proposals to broaden its tax base and lower its tax rates. "We have a governor with experience, and we're going to lose 12 seasoned legislators" after the 2022 election when they will be term-limited out of office, Linehan noted. "The time frame is now," she said, and the state needs to go big in terms of tax reform even though "big is hard."


Nebraska's problem with property taxes is hurting its business and competitiveness rankings and slowing down the state's opportunity for sustained economic growth. Governor Pete Ricketts proposal to put caps on government spending as a way to slow down taxes is a plan with merit. However, it's going to take real follow through to prove this idea is a solution and not just political theater. Nebraskans have been promised for years that something will be done about property taxes in their state. However, all they have received so far are quick fixes and short-term solutions. Providing tax credits alone has not been sufficient to offset rising local property taxes throughout the state fully. Budget limitations and fiscal caps on governing bodies at the state and local level might be the solution that Nebraska needs.

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Get Bureaucrats Out of Craft Beer in Minnesota

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Posted by Matt Owens on Thursday, March 4th, 2021, 3:10 PM PERMALINK

Momentum is building behind a bill that would deregulate growler sales in Minnesota. A “growler” is a 64oz reusable container that beer fans use to take home draft beer from their favorite breweries.  Currently in Minnesota breweries that produce over 20,000 barrels per Year are restricted from using these industry-standard beer-to-go containers.

Representative Jim Nash sponsored H.F. 1050/S.F. 874, which would end the restriction on big breweries selling growlers.  Representative Nash recently stated “It's finally time to 'Free the Growler' and stop punishing five successful breweries in our state while removing a hurdle many growing breweries may face in the coming years”, Representative Nash is optimistic about the bills future, “Beer is bipartisan and we will have bipartisan support on our proposal in the House and Senate. We need lawmakers to overcome the resistance to change that has kept Minnesota's liquor laws stuck in the 1940s."”

As craft beer continues to grow and establish a permanent foot hold in the market, many states have a game of catch up to play in terms of modernizing their laws to better reflect the current realities of the beer market. Industries can change significantly quicker than the laws governing them can. State by state quirks and out dated laws stifle the beer market, such as in Massachusetts where breweries are only allowed to fill growlers that they manufactured. In California the laws were the same as Massachusetts, until a recent reform which allowed customers to merely display a sticker of the brewery on the growler instead of requiring a custom receptacle just for that establishment.

Brewery owners argue that the restriction dis-incentivizes breweries to expand and hurts the industry as a whole. Jim Diley, The co-founder of Fulton Beer said “Year after Year, we've come back and have not seen success in moving that cap…. The bottom line is we are a family-run, locally-owned group of breweries that are seeking commonsense change."

Supporters of this type of legislation should look at COVID as an opportunity to modernize laws governing alcohol sales. Rep Jim Nash is rallying support in his state to get rid of these obtuse restrictions. Eliminating arbitrary hoops that small businesses must jump through is a far better strategy for economic recovery than more government handouts. Breweries and small businesses across the country have been some of the hardest hit by the economic complications caused by COVID. This legislation will only serve to aid their recovery.

Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Craft Beers

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Time to Stop Government From Taking Innocent Peoples’ Property

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Posted by Matt Owens on Thursday, February 11th, 2021, 1:14 PM PERMALINK

Civil asset forfeiture laws allow the authorities to take your stuff without ever proving you did something wrong. They run counter to the basic assumptions and processes of our criminal justice system that are meant to protect the innocent.

Fortunately, progress in reforming these laws is being made. Three states have already decided to ban the practice entirely including North Carolina, New Mexico, and Nebraska. Since New Mexico’s ban, experience has shown that crime did not increase as detractors had predicted.

Overall, 35 states have passed at least some type of reform, including Alabama and Arkansas in 2019. 15 states currently have passed laws that require a criminal conviction as the standard in order to allow civil asset forfeiture. Also, 25 states have passed laws raising the standard for record keeping and reporting during civil asset forfeiture. 

While there’s still much do be done in the states, opportunity is knocking again with most states engaged in their 2021 legislative sessions. States like Arizona, where Democrats bizarrely killed reform last session, have the chance to get it done this year.

Reform on this issue should continue to gain urgency following the Supreme Court’s decision in Timbs v. Indiana. The court ruled that the state wrongfully forfeited a man’s SUV on the theory that it was used to move drugs. The court overturned a state court ruling, asserting it violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on excessive fines.

Although the Timbs decision was a major blow to law enforcement overreach, work still needs to be done to bring civil asset forfeiture into check on a federal level. Representative Tim Walberg from Michigan has a bill in Congress that would directly address this issue. The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration act (FAIR act) would provide further protection to individuals who are having their assets seized by the police.

The point of the bill is not to eliminate or augment the government’s ability to seize property, but merely to ensure adequate legal protection and fairness for the individuals subject to such practice.

Former Representative Justin Amash had proposed a bill to end civil asset forfeiture entirely.

Some police departments have been abusing asset forfeiture for years, such as the case of Gerardo Serrano who had his pickup truck taken from him by police and was held for 2 years after being accused of arms smuggling for accidently leaving a hand gun magazine in his center console while attempting to cross the border to see his family.

As a matter of fact, in 2014 in total dollar value, law enforcement agencies used civil asset forfeiture to seize more from people than the total amount of the value of property stolen during burglaries. In overall numbers, the authorities were taking more stuff than bad guys at that particular moment.

Politicians who believe in property rights, due process, and individual liberty should lead on reform, just as much as those who object to the authorities taking stuff from people who are more likely to be from low-income communities.  

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Obhof Leaves Ohio Senate with Legacy of Conservative Leadership

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Posted by Matt Owens on Friday, January 22nd, 2021, 1:43 PM PERMALINK

With 2020 coming to an end, now-former Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof has left a conservative legacy on a broad section of issues, from education, and criminal justice, to tax and regulatory policy.

Sen. Obhof led on regulatory reform that would prevent the growth of the regulatory state, and eliminate 30% of state regulations currently in place. Late last session, the final plank of that plan passed the House in Ohio Sb1.

Senator Obhof stated “This is perhaps the most sweeping regulatory reform in modern Ohio history…Now, we all know that some regulations are necessary for health and safety and the environment, but many of these restrictions create unnecessary hurdles for Ohio’s small businesses. We don’t need 100,000 more regulations than other states.”

On school choice, Senate bill 89 will expand the ability for parents to put their children in the best school possible through voucher programs. This bill offers low income scholarships to underserved communities. Obhof championed the bill and was a key player in ensuring it passed.

Under Obhof’s leadership, the Senate enacted multiple occupational licensing reforms. Ohio in 2019 had over 18 percent of their work force licensed in order to operate. SB 255 reduced this number dramatically, allowing fewer barriers to entry in competition across many industries. This served as a blessing particularly for low income residents as licensing fees and costs of education can keep those eager to compete out of the game entirely. According to a report from the Institute for Justice in 2019, Ohio Was losing almost 68,000 and $6 billion in inefficiency due to these burdensome licensing hurdles.

Obhof has also helped protect Ohio taxpayers from aggressive tax increases, and found ways to trim burdens. “Let me save you some time on this. There is 0% chance @OhioSenateGOP will raise income taxes,” Obhof tweeted last year in response to progressive groups.

On criminal justice reform, the Obhof-led Senate saw passage of a significant drug sentencing reform bill, SB3. The Senate put in the hard work of adjusting the bill over nearly two years, which led to its overwhelming passage. Unfortunately, despite the House likely having the votes to pass the bill as well, leadership ducked holding a floor vote.

With a House chamber in turmoil following an FBI investigation of one speaker, and forcing his resignation, which only gave way to Larry Householder and his ensuing mass bribery scandal, the Ohio Senate has had to often stand alone in putting taxpayers first.

Senator Obhof’s leadership and accomplishments have kept hard-earned dollars in the pockets of Ohio families, and made the state a leader on licensing and regulatory reform, so it is now easier to work and do business in the state. There is more to be done, and if both chambers follow this example, more conservative reform will get done.

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It’s Time to Get Drug Sentencing Reform Done in Ohio

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Posted by Matt Owens on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020, 12:17 PM PERMALINK

Ohio’s Senate bill 3 continues to proceed through hearings in the House, following its overwhelming passage in the Senate earlier this year. This has been a long process, and the bill deserves to get over the finish line before session ends, and a new session begins next year.

The bill would reduce many nonviolent drug offenses from a felony down to a misdemeanor, divert more addicts to treatment rather than just incarceration, and expand expungement so people are better able to get back on their feet.

While some opponents continue to bring up concerns about the impact on drug abuse should SB3 pass, the bill remains a conservative, tough and smart approach. A Pew research study found no correlation between imprisonment rates and rates of drug use. And a recent Buckeye Institute paper thoroughly puts concerns to bed:

“According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a prison sentence has little, if any, deterrent effect on future drug use by nonviolent drug offenders. The study found that “On average, incarceration in the United States costs approximately $22,000 per month, and there is little evidence that this strategy reduces drug use or drug-related re-incarceration rates for nonviolent drug offenders. … “A separate study of 15 states (including Ohio) by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that one-quarter of individuals incarcerated for drug crimes returned to prison within three years.”.

The reality is that the current system does little to improve the situation with drug addiction, and makes it worse by not addressing addiction while tagging people with life-altering criminal convictions that make finding work and building a life more difficult.

This is why prison alternatives should be strongly considered. Senate bill 3 could give those struggling a second chance to get back on track rather than send them into a negative feedback spiral.

Further Senate Bill 3 remains bad news for dangerous drug dealers. Mandatory minimums and strict enforcement would still be intact for high-level traffickers and offenders.

Getting these low level offenders out of the prison system could be prudent way to help Ohio’s already overcrowded prisons. The main focus is on reducing crime and helping individuals but, the fiscal benefits from this bill can’t be ignored. The Ohio legislative services commission estimates this bill could save the state $75 million per year.

The House and Governor DeWine should act swiftly to get SB3 passed and signed before the year is out. It would be a step towards reducing the size and scope of government power by administering proportional justice to nonviolent offenders, and reducing the need for government spending on prisons.

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Texas Needs a Fiscally Conservative Game Plan to Navigate Budget Hardships

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Posted by Matt Owens on Tuesday, November 24th, 2020, 11:38 AM PERMALINK

As in other states, tax collections in Texas have taken a hit due to Covid-19 and subsequent shutdowns. Texas lawmakers will be faced with the challenge of reprioritizing state spending when they convene their biennial session in January. To assist Lone Star State lawmakers in this effort, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) has published a conservative budget plan that would limit spending growth to the rate of population plus inflation, setting a max threshold for appropriations in the next budget at $246.8 billion.

TPPF is also urging Texas lawmakers to provide property tax relief in the coming year, a goal the Americans for Tax Reform supports. Texas is one of nine no-income-tax states, yet high property tax burdens are a problem. 2021 is a great time for Texas legislators to fix that. TPPF economist Vance Ginn highlighted the excessive property tax burdens facing Texans in testimony presented to the Texas House Ways & Means Committee in September:

“Texas looks to have at least the 7th highest local property tax burden in the nation,” Ginn told lawmakers. “This is according to an effective property tax rate of 1.81% per or the share of property taxes paid to owner-occupied housing value of 1.69% per the Tax Foundation. While some claim this high burden is because Texas does not have a personal income tax, the two sources above show other states with no income tax tend to have a more competitive property tax burden. Texas’s high burden is from excessive spending.”

Even though Texas has a relatively competitive state tax code (minus the state’s margins tax), local municipalities throughout Texas notoriously squeeze residents through high property taxes. The coming legislative session presents an opportunity for Governor Greg Abbott and Texas legislators to consider restructuring that relationship in order to ease property tax burdens.

TPPF’s Ginn proposes swapping the state’s patchwork of local property taxes for a uniform sales tax to fund schools.

“For the sales tax swap, we recommend replacing school M&O property taxes with final sales taxes by mostly broadening the sales tax base,” said Ginn. “In 2017, the last year for which data is available from the Texas Comptroller’s website, Texas provided an estimated $42 billion in exemptions, exclusions, and discounts to the final sales tax base, requiring a higher tax rate and higher burden on those taxed.”

The new year will be full of challenges for state lawmakers in Texas and elsewhere. But the new legislative session also presents many opportunities. In addition to balancing the budget without raising taxes in 2021, tax reform that reduces onerous property tax burdens should be a high priority for Texas legislators, as should phasing out the state margins tax.

Photo Credit: Michael Barera