Ohio has no state corporate income tax and splurges heavily on subsidies. One of the most troubling developments was the decision in 2011 to turn subsidy oversight and control over to JobsOhio, a private nonprofit economic development corporation exempt from open records laws. Groups sued over that lack of transparency but the powerful agency, funded with liquor profits and overseen by a governor-appointed board, has survived and continues to make decisions with little public scrutiny.
In Ohio, state subsidies like the Job Creation Tax Credit are often bundled with local ones which are all place-based, meaning that companies receive local tax breaks if they are in any of the Community Reinvestment Areas, Enterprise Zones, and Tax Increment Financing districts. In large cities like Cincinnati, subsidies are routinely given out for constructing high-end apartments, which led to a 2020 lawsuit by a group of Black residents claiming the way city granted tax abatements disproportionately benefited white homeowners and thus violated the Fair Housing Act.
Aside from JobsOhio, the state has good online transparency practices. The DataOhio portal created by executive order has recipient information for tax incentives, as well as grants and loans. In addition, the Department of Development publishes annual reports containing information on individual awards for the major state programs and local enterprise zones. At the local level, Franklin County (which includes the state capital Columbus) is leading the charge to make tax breaks more transparent: its online portal provides extensive details about subsidies.
The Office of Budget and Management prepares the Annual Comprehensive Financial Reports (ACFRs), which contain information on five economic development tax abatement programs. The annual tax expenditure reports published by the Department of Taxation have information on more general tax breaks. Ohio’s localities generally report tax abatements in accordance with Statement No. 77.
In 2016, the Ohio legislature created the Tax Expenditure Review Committee charged with reviewing 129 tax breaks every eight years. While this was a good move, the committee has fallen behind schedule and has yet to come up with concrete recommendations for ways to improve and reform Ohio’s tax break programs. At the local level, Tax Incentive Review Councils evaluate local tax abatements on a quarterly basis—to what effect, it’s unclear.