Bill would exempt textbooks from Ohio sales tax

By Jim Siegel & Dina Berliner The Columbus Dispatch  •  Tuesday August 25, 2015 5:08 AM

When Esthela Artiga was a freshman at Ohio State University, she didn’t know about the many ways to save money on textbooks. Back then, she paid about $400 per semester for books.

Now, Artiga, a senior studying biochemistry, knows all the tricks, such as renting books online, but she still spends $200 to $300 on textbooks each semester. As a student who works and takes out loans to pay for her education, she’ll take any help she can get to pay less for books.

A bipartisan pair of Franklin County lawmakers are introducing a bill this week to exempt college textbooks from the state sales tax.

“I think it would make a huge difference, especially for people in the science fields,” Artiga said. “Books are really expensive out there, the same for physics and math.”

The National Association of College Stores says average new-textbook prices since 2007 rose nearly 40 percent, to $79 in 2013. Used-textbook costs rose about 20 percent.

If an Ohio student bought five books at $79 apiece, the state sales tax would be about $23. Under the proposal, the county sales tax would still apply.

Rep. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, whose district includes seven colleges and universities, said the idea for the exemption came when a student asked him about other states exempting textbooks.

“Representing so many students, any opportunity to give them a little more money is a good idea,” he said.

Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, chairman of the House Finance Education Subcommittee, asked to join Stinziano’s effort, calling it a matter of consistency.

“I know there’s a significant number of people out there that think the legislature just does various failed tax exemptions for various pet issues,” Duffey said. “But nobody would ever suggest that tuition should be taxed, and books, to me, are part and parcel of tuition. You don’t really have a choice.”

The College Board, a nonprofit group that administers the AP and SAT exams, says undergraduate students at four-year public universities budgeted an estimated $1,225 for books and supplies last year.

Brad Herman, 22, a fifth-year student from Perrysburg studying sports industry, said he spends about $200 per semester on books but has seen that total reach about $400 in the past.

“I think it would definitely help,” he said of a sales-tax exemption. “Anything that can help a college student with money, especially here — off-campus ... living prices are high as well. There’s a lot of costs that students have, and with taking classes, it’s hard to work at the same time, so anything helps, really.”

The bill fits with the general legislative theme in recent years of trying to hold down higher-education costs. The new state budget freezes tuition at Ohio universities for two years, and it asks institutions to provide plans for how to reduce overall student costs by 5 percent.

Both Stinziano and Duffey hope the bill provides an opportunity for a broader discussion about the underlying issue of rising textbook prices

“We should start the conversation of how many publishers are involved, what kind of conflicts of interest may exist between professors at different universities or assigning textbooks they wrote themselves to their own students,” Duffey said.