Proponents of the Commercial Activity Tax touted the levy on businesses in Ohio as the picture of sound tax reform. They cited its broad base and low rate, the tax less vulnerable to the exemptions, credits, deductions and exclusions that riddled the corporate profits tax it replaced. The CAT would apply to gross receipts and in doing so, the thinking went, make the state more competitive.

That was 2005, and the record shows the CAT has proved susceptible to lawmakers crafting assorted tax breaks. Actually, the relief arrived early, as Doug Caruso and Marty Schladen of the Columbus Dispatch reported on Monday. They highlighted an exemption for “qualified distribution centers” that primarily has benefited giant pharmaceutical distributors such as Cardinal Health.

Which is something of an embarrassment, even reason for outrage, given that as they reaped the tax savings, drug distributors were part of bringing the devastating opioid crisis to the state.

Mike DeWine put it sharply at a recent press conference in the aftermath of news reports about drugmakers and distributors flooding the country with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from 2006 through 2012. “There is no doubt,” the governor said, “that they knew these drugs were addictive. There’s no doubt they lied to the public … for a long period of time.”

The state has taken the drug industry to court, and so have nearly 1,500 cities and counties, including Summit and Cuyahoga counties. Will state officials do something about the tax break? Larry Obhof, the Senate president, and Larry Householder, the House speaker, suggest they are open to a review. Yet legislative leaders have been talking for years about examining the now $9 billion annually in tax breaks, formally known as tax expenditures. So far, they have little to show.

The tax break for distributors applies to those centers that purchase at least $500 million a year in goods and ship at least half of that amount out of the state. They avoid paying the CAT on the products sent out of Ohio. The lost revenue started as a relatively small sum, around $25 million annually. Yet it climbed steadily — as the opioid crisis took hold — and now is on a track toward $180 million a year, ranking among the largest 20 of the state’s 128 tax breaks.

To his credit, John Kasich, in his final budget plan as governor, proposed narrowing the tax break for distribution centers. He wanted to create a minimum tax, ensuring a CAT payment on at least 10 percent of receipts. No longer could a company avoid the tax entirely. Tim Keen, then budget director, explained to lawmakers the exemption had become a tax planning tool, or a matter of gaming the system.

Policy Matters Ohio laid out the problem in a report issued during the budget process. Unfortunately, lawmakers did not include the provision in the final budget.

Which points to one lesson worth reiterating. The state needs a regular review process for the tax breaks lawmakers write into law. Some date to the 1930s and 1940s. A review would look at whether each serves a worthy purpose or the percentage of $9 billion a year that amounts to wasteful spending.

Imagine a rigorous and timely process in place, say, as the toll from overdose deaths headed toward its peak of 5,155 in 2017, might lawmakers have connected the dots? Might they have recognized that as the drug industry pumped prescription opioids into Ohio, the state rewarded its distribution centers with a handsome tax break, adding to the industry’s bottom line? The case hardly could be stronger for giving the state’s tax breaks the scrutiny Ohioans deserve.