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PROFILE: Ohio's Top Tax Man Talks About
How UC Prepared Him For Business

Date: April 23, 2001
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Archive: Alumni profiles

Tax time is the busiest time of the year for UC alumnus Thomas M. Zaino. In fact, you might just call him the "Tax Man" of Ohio. Zaino was appointed Ohio Tax Commissioner in 1999 and oversees nearly 1,300 workers in 11 operating divisions under the Ohio Department of Taxation. As Tax Commissioner, Zaino is responsible for the collection and administration of more than $18 billion of state taxes.

The 36-year-old Xenia native graduated from UC in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration and became a certified public accountant in 1991. He earned his law degree from Ohio State in 1989.

Zaino took a little time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his experience at UC, and to answer some questions of interest to Ohio's taxpayers:

What made you decide to come to UC after high school?
My decision to attend UC was actually made during a trip to Cincinnati to attend a Rotary (Club)-sponsored Youth in Government conference. One of the things we could do during the conference was take a tour of UC. The day of the tour, it was the first nice day of spring. I don't know if it was the weather or the visit, but that's when I fell in love with UC. It was a neat campus. You walk everywhere; everything is pretty close by. It was a great experience.

Talk about some of your activities at UC.
I worked as a Resident Adviser (RA) for two years at Calhoun Hall and lived on the sixth floor with engineering students. When I was a sophomore, I worked at the information desk at Tangeman University Center (TUC).

What are some of your memorable UC experiences?
Being an RA was clearly the most memorable experience. It was kind of a training ground for dealing with all sorts of situations. I learned how to respond to a crisis…to take groups of people and build them into teams to provide whatever help people needed. I also developed some really close relationships with other RA's and many of those friendships continue today. My closest friends in the world are from that group.

I also recall a huge squirt gun fight in the dorm that escalated into war waged with buckets of water. Then there are the steps -- I remember all of those steps around campus.

If you knew of someone who was planning to come to UC, what would be your advice to that prospective student?
Plan carefully. If you plan your class schedule well, you'll have plenty of time to study and get good grades and also have time to enjoy yourself and have fun with friends.

How has your experience at UC enhanced your career?
Again, I go back to my experience as Resident Adviser. It helped me deal with many areas of human relations: how to build friendships and trust and how to handle crisis situations. I developed a lot of skills I've used throughout my career.

I had many good accounting teachers. One in particular had a tremendous influence on me. Mrs. (Marcia) Halvorsen was a tremendous help in building my confidence and in deciding that accounting was a career I could pursue and in which I could do well. Ultimately, I became a partner in an accounting firm (Coopers & Lybrand). When I was still in school, I applied through UC-s co-op program for a position at Coopers & Lybrand, and interviewed but was rejected. On my wall at home, I have a framed copy of the rejection letter and next to it I have a framed copy of a letter from the chairman of the firm, welcoming me into the partnership. Obviously, my degree was critical to achieving that goal.

What led to your interest in state taxes?
After law school, I started at Coopers as a consultant in federal tax. After a while, I started to see that state tax was a growing area. Over the past 10 years, the importance of state and local taxes has just skyrocketed. Because the federal government has been pushing programs and costs down to the states, the states have had to get aggressive about looking at taxes to get revenues. The impact on businesses is they increasingly saw state taxes as a cost that needed managing.

What's the good news for Ohio taxpayers this year?
One is the tax cut. Because of the budget surplus last year, everyone got a 6.9 percent cut in their income tax. That's more than $600 million going back to taxpayers.

On the customer service front, I should now mention we have a system off our website where taxpayers can e-mail their questions to us. Our goal is to get them an answer back within 24 hours.

As far as filing taxes, we're always working to add features that make it easier and more convenient for taxpayers. This year, we're seeing even more people choosing to file taxes electronically. On that front, we expanded the telefile program to give even more people that option. For anyone wanting their refund back quickly -- and I think that's pretty much everyone -- telefile and e-file are the way to go. Last year, we had about 1.3 million returns filed electronically. That's about 20 percent of our total returns. Our goal this year is to hit the 30 percent mark, or about 1.7 million returns. Ultimately, our goal is to have a paperless system.

I'd like to encourage people who are getting refunds to choose the direct deposit option, where the refund goes right into their bank account. That's the absolute fastest way to get your money back. If you owe tax, we've added a feature this year that allows you to pay by credit card.

Why is the state of Ohio one of the nation's leaders for taxpayers to file electronically?
I think one reason is because Ohioans recognize the convenience afforded with e-filing. As a state taxing authority, we do a very good job of cooperating with the IRS in furthering the development of e-filing. We've also established a good working relationship with the vendors or tax preparers who provide the electronic filing services. They all add up to a pretty good e-file program in Ohio.

What are the benefits for taxpayers, as well as state workers, for filing online?
For taxpayers, the benefits are faster processing of their refund claims and more accurate processing of their returns. Filing electronically really cuts down on the number of mistakes.

As for the state, the benefits are primarily that we can focus our limited resources on providing more value-added services, like taxpayer assistance, rather than spending money on data entry or manual processing of returns. To give you an example, by requiring rounding this year, where you could round the cents up or down to the nearest dollar, we're saving $325,000 in data processing costs.

What is the average state income tax refund expected to be this year?
The average refund this year is in the neighborhood of $258.

How many Ohioans are expected to owe money?
This year is shaping up to pretty much follow the history of previous years. Typically about 25 percent of our taxpayers owe additional tax when they file. Because of the size of the tax cut this year, we'll probably have a few more people than usual getting money back. Overall, we have a total of about 5.3 million income tax returns.

To meet other UC people, go to the profiles archive.

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