Viewpoint: It’s the taxpayer’s money

Not much makes me angrier than when the government fails to serve the citizens it is supposed to be serving. That’s exactly what has been happening for decades in Ohio at the state Tax Department and why I have been quoted recently in newspapers around the state using words like “reprehensible,” “intolerable,” “wrong,” and “shocked.”

I felt that anger when learning in 2012 that for many years the Tax Department did not tell many businesses that they had overpaid their taxes. Worse, unless the businesses discovered it themselves and asked for a refund within three or four years, depending on the tax, the overpayment would become property of the state. Upon learning this and reporting it to my boss, Gov. John Kasich, he agreed that we should immediately stop the practice and start contacting businesses about the tax refunds they were owed.

Last year the first part of this effort began and since then Ohio has refunded more than $10 million related to the commercial activity tax. This month the second phase began and Ohio is starting to refund $30 million more that is owed to Ohio businesses. Fortunately the personal income tax system in Ohio works differently than the major business tax systems and Ohioans automatically receive any personal income tax refunds they are owed.

Ohio businesses that are owed tax refunds will soon be hearing from the tax department. If, however, any business wants to find out as soon as possible if they are owed a refund, they can call the Department at 1-800-304-3211. Overpayments of sales tax, employer withholding, corporate franchise tax and commercial activity tax are all potential sources of refunds.

The reason it’s important to return to job creators any money that they’re owed is simple-government doesn’t create jobs, Ohioans and the private sector do. If government is locking up job creators’ money then they can’t use it to grow, expand and put Ohioans to work.

Ohio has worked hard to create a jobs friendly climate and get our state back on track. We’ve closed an $8 billion budget shortfall without a tax increase, cut taxes by nearly $3 billion and invested in key job-creation assets like highways and education. We’re seeing progress in our efforts to create the environment for businesses to begin growing again and, in the past three years, Ohioans have created more than 174,000 private sector job. It’s great progress but we’ve got more work to do in order to continue strengthening Ohio.

The Department of Taxation is fortunate to have many dedicated public servants working to serve the people of Ohio. This episode, however, has uncovered a significant system weakness which we will continue to rectify.

Government exists to serve people; people don’t exist to serve government. By changing the way the Tax Department does business in this area, and by alerting business taxpayers when they’ve overpaid-even if they didn’t realize they were owed money-Ohio is putting government in its rightful place-in service to its citizens.

Joe Testa is Ohio tax commissioner.