Private investigators in Ohio smelled a rat when it came to the $27.3 billion general fund budget passed by the state legislature in July.

The budget for the 1992-93 biennium that began July 1 was balanced through the use of numerous revenue enhancements, including an extension of state local sales taxes to detective and protective services. The state is counting on receiving $34.8 million over the two years from expanding the tax to include investigative services.

Earlier this month, Vincent Volpi, president of a Columbus-based international investigation company called PICA Corp., filed suit against state Tax Commissioner Roger Tracy claiming the tax is unconstitutional.

"It's opening up a whole new area of taxation, in my opinion," Mr. Volpi said, adding that the suit could become a class action.

The lawsuit, filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, seeks injunctive relief enjoining the tax commissioner from collecting the sales tax. The lawsuit claims the tax violates the equal protection clause of both the U.S. and Ohio constitutions because it exempts special, off-duty police from the tax, "without establishing a rational basis for doing so."

It also alleges that the proposed tax was not given a sufficient hearing in the legislature, and was instead inserted into the budget bill at the eleventh hour by a six-member legislative conference committee.

Carol Bessey, the state's deputy tax commissioner, expressed confidence that "the state will prevail on this tax." She declined to comment further on the lawsuit.

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