One of the questions faced by many state legislatures is how to address the federal tax overhaul passed late in 2017. Experts said these questions will also need to be addressed in Ohio.

Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, said lawmakers will more than likely introduce what is known as a conformity bill in February. It will then be time for the state to decide what it would conform to in the bill and whether Ohio would go in a separate direction with its own tax laws.

Schiller said one of many questions that could arise is how to handle claiming personal exemptions in income taxes.

“They eliminate personal exemptions in the federal law,” Schiller said. “Does Ohio want to eliminate its own personal exemptions? That is one of the questions that could come up.”

With the tax reform bill being such a broad bill, Schiller said the situation surrounding conformity in Ohio is still murky.

“There are many, many questions and I think even the questions are not all clear yet, much less the answers,” Schiller said.

Schiller also said the General Assembly had authorized a tax expenditure review committee that will review tax breaks in the state tax code over eight years. The committee has met once and will generate a report by July to examine the tax breaks, which Schiller said costs the state more than $9 billion per year in revenue.

Schiller said 2018 should provide answers to questions surrounding that committee, such as how it will go about its job and which tax breaks it will review.

Keith Lake, vice president of government affairs at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, said fixing the “broke and broken” unemployment compensation system in the state was the chamber’s No. 1 issue.

“Our system is essentially insolvent,” Lake said. “So, while our unemployment rate remains pretty low, it does not create a problem, but should the unemployment rate spike, if we were to have a recession or economic slowdown and unemployment claims went up, we would quickly find ourselves in a situation where we would not have enough money in our trust fund to pay all of the benefits we would be required to pay.”

Lake also highlighted energy efficiency requirements and said the chamber wants to protect businesses from escalating costs of energy efficiency mandates.

Lake said in Ohio, there is a statute requiring utilities to reduce the amount of energy consumed by consumers, compared to a baseline. Programs are then developed and costs for achieving savings are determined, followed by a rider placed in every ratepayer’s monthly bill.

Lake said the cost of compliance with the statute will continue to increase.

“We know that the cost of compliance with these is going to continue to escalate because the energy efficiency savings utilities are required to achieve keeps going up and at the same time, all the low-hanging fruit, the easiest and cheapest things to do to drive energy efficiency have already been done,” Lake said.

Other key legislative issues for the Chamber, as indicated in a priorities sheet, are bringing “balance and predictability” to state anti-discrimination laws, reducing the threat of more “one-size-fits-all” health insurance mandates, and minimizing negative impacts that state regulations have on businesses.

One problem that continues to impact Ohio, especially in the southeast corner of the state, is the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Greg Lawson, a research fellow at the Buckeye Institute, said the epidemic would be the big background issue in Ohio, which supersedes everything else.
“If you are looking at what everybody is talking about and running around trying to figure out, Ohio and the opioid addiction issue is not even close – [it's] the top issue,” Lawson said.

Lawson said the legislature would spend more money on the issue, with questions to consider being problems such as how to fund Narcan, the drug used to revive someone who overdoses, who funds treatment, and what happens with recovering addicts being in county jails, which Lawson said is probably not the best place for treatment.

Other key issues Lawson pointed to include the capital budget, which is largely for state agencies and higher education institutions. Lawson said taxpayers are interested in knowing how money is spent on public works projects instead of those such as amphitheaters.

“I think taxpayers are going to be interested in that to the degree that money that goes to important infrastructure, whether it's roads, there are a lot of issues with sewers and wastewater and stormwater runoff and things like that," he said.

Several legislative committees are scheduled to meet Tuesday, with the full House and Senate in session Wednesday.
Ohio also will hold its statewide elections in November. Voters will elect a new governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, among other positions.