By Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director
As expected, Gov. John Kasich’s “mid-year budget review bill” that was introduced this week contains several items that ONA members should note.
The most significant item is our proposal to make our public notice website, www.PublicNoticesOhio.com, the “official” website for notices in Ohio.
This will help continue the long-standing and important relationship between newspapers, government advertisers and your readers. Notices should never only be placed on government websites that few will see. This will remove the necessity for the state to operate a lightly used public notice website. Our language is very similar to language adopted in the past few years in Illinois, Tennessee, Florida and other states.
If this goes into effect, the direct impact on most ONA members will be modest. Most of our members have been voluntarily uploading notices to the site for years, at no additional cost to taxpayers. This will make it easier for governmental bodies to experience the cost savings that were built into the 2011 statute changes when there are multiple notice requirements, so there will be some increase in “shortened notices.”
Uploading to the official site will be mandatory for many notices, which will affect the few newspapers that don’t upload to the site now. However, state law already requires newspapers to upload to their own websites at no additional charge if they have a site. The process is easy and can be automated in most cases.
The ONA Trustees and I believe this is a big step that can pay both short-term and long-term dividends far into the future as local newspapers continue to be the go-to places for notices across any and all platforms. We are working cooperatively with the legal journals that publish court-related notices in most of Ohio’s major cities to accomplish this.
However, the precise language needs some fixing. We are offering taxpayer savings, expanded access to notices to the public and no additional cost to government advertisers. In order to do that, the statute must be crystal clear in designating our site as the official site as other states have done. We will work hard to make that happen.
Here are some other items in you should be watching:
CAT tax expansion:
In order to pay for another round of reductions in state income tax rates, Gov. Kasich proposed a 15 percent boost in the Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) from .26 percent to .30 percent. This will affect ONA members in different ways. Each newspaper will have to determine whether the income tax cuts offset a big hike in this tax on gross receipts.
The CAT tax works like this: Businesses that gross less than $150,000 annually are exempt. A minimum payment of $150 is required on the first $1 million of receipts. Receipts above $1 million are taxed at the 0.26 percent rate. In other words, a business paying $2,600 on a $1 million in receipts would pay $3,000 under Kasich’s proposal.
Open meetings, open records and notices:
We are pleased to see language that a newly created “Foundation for Appalachian Ohio” would have to explicitly follow open meetings and open records laws.
There are several other provisions involving specific state agencies that we are examining to determine whether to oppose, support or watch. For example, newspaper notice requirements would be removed for the leasing of state-owned offices. We may have more to say on some of these items.