This election season the nation's eyes are on Ohio - and not just the presidential battlefront. They're also watching the hot contest between Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Josh Mandel. It's one of a handful races that could determine whether the Democrats hold onto their slim majority in the U.S. Senate. Like most campaigns the candidates are either short on details or sing only one song about what they'd do to fix things. That's particularly true on the issue of taxes. Bill Rice of Ohio Public Radio Station WCPN reports.
If we’re going to fix this still sputtering economy, we’re going to have to do something about taxes. On that Senator Sherrod Brown and State Treasurer Josh Mandel can agree. But what they mean by tax reform is entirely different.
"The job creators that got their taxes sharply reduced in the bush years for a decade haven’t been creating jobs. You don’t create jobs by trickle down you create jobs by focus on the middle class. That’s why we are seeing job growth now; we didn’t see any appreciable job growth during the bush years,” says Senator Sherrod Brown.
And what does he mean by that? What would he do? He’d raise the top tax rates to just under 40 percent.
“I think that we need to bring the tax rate for upper income people back to the Clinton years. it’s not a huge tax increase but people that are making a million dollars or two million dollars a year can afford to pay a little better. They have had a good decade. We should restore the tax levels to what they were in those years when we had such a prosperous economy, when tens of millions of jobs were created - unlike now, when we have these lower taxes on the rich and we have seen no job growth."
Beyond raising taxes on the wealthy and curtailing some tax breaks for corporations, Brown doesn’t have a lot to say about taxes. Nothing about broadening the tax base so that more people pay at least some federal income taxes and no fiddling with tax deductions for the middle class, like home mortgage interest.
And Mandel? He wants to blow up the whole tax code.
“We need to take our tax code and completely dismantle it. Build it backup with lower tax rates across the board for the middle class and other more simple tax code. Get rid of all these special carve outs and handouts to industries that just have powerful lobbyists, and have a tax code that is more simple that the average citizen can navigate, the average small business can navigate," says Mandel.
And what does Mandel mean, specifically? Which “handouts to industries” does he want to eliminate? He doesn’t say. Nor does he say how low he wants tax rates to go. As for phasing out deductions on home mortgages as some deficit hawks have advocated, Mandel remains vague on such questions. Here his gift for lofty rhetoric turns on.
"I think the specifics need to be taken up in a bi-partisan way whether its tax reforms or other issues I think it’s important to deal with these in a bi partisan way, walking across the aisle.”
Beneath the vagueness and the platitudes is a simple truth. Few Ohio voters should have much trouble deciphering the essential differences between Senator Brown and challenger Mandel. The voter’s decision may be simply asking themselves which of these two very different universes do they live in.