College students should not be an afterthought in tax policy

For many years, Lakewood exempted students from filing a local income tax return, if they spent most of the year at college. Then, late in 2015, City Council voted to end that exemption beginning with filings for 2016.

This vote came up as a question at a candidate forum a couple of weeks ago, and I was surprised that all of the incumbent candidates struggled to remember it.

I was actually the only candidate familiar with the issue, and replied that I would have fought to keep this exemption for students. To be entirely fair, City Council holds a lot of votes, and I can’t say for certain that I would have recalled the details of this one almost two years later.

But the issue also came up again just this year, when people went to file 2016 taxes and began asking where the college student exemption went. People discussed it online, the Lakewood Observer published an article, and Lakewood’s Finance Director as well as Ward 4 Councilman Dan O’Malley all weighed in.

I noticed this, and the discussion convinced me that this was not a decision that I would have supported on council. While the city cited changes in state law as the reason for taking away the exemption, residents noticed that other Ohio cities have kept this filing exemption. The Director of Tax Policy at the Ohio Society of CPAs says that nothing in 2014 tax law changes prevented Lakewood from doing the same.

Based on that, I can say that I disagree with the choice made by City Council in 2015. It’s a relatively small thing in practical terms. But with so many people struggling to afford college, we should stand up for whatever support Lakewood can offer, not take it away in a vote that no one seemed to notice.

That’s what’s our local government needs, and not just on this issue: better connection with the people outside of city hall. When something like this comes up, council needs to consult more points of view, both in the community and from experts like the Society of CPAs. If there’s a difference of opinion, I think council should come down on the side of those who need our help, like students facing huge debt burdens.

And when council does vote on an issue that affects people like this does—especially if it isn’t immediate—elected leaders need to communicate it so that people aren’t blindsided months later.

If I’m elected to City Council, I will be this kind of representative for the people.