One of the most intriguing toys ever invented was Rubik’s Cube — a six-sided puzzle of choices that provided great challenges (and an equal amount of frustration) to those who sought to solve it. Our state budget is similar to the cube: one choice may not prove to be a step closer to solving the puzzle—oftentimes that single choice leads to even more complications.
With this in mind, the Ohio House recently voted out House Bill 49 — the state budget legislation. Not only were there many complicated choices (with negative repercussions), but we were advised by the governor and Republican legislative leaders three weeks before the vote that we would have to cut $800 million from the original budget bill. Revenues were short of projections — way short. The cumulative effect of the administration’s tax cuts and tax shifts over the past six years, coupled with anemic job creation statewide (specifically those jobs which pay a living wage) had come home, like the proverbial chickens, to roost.
We were given a lemon of a budget and we made lemonade.
First the good news: The House agreed to dedicate $170 million to fight the opioid epidemic in Ohio, which I believe is one of the greatest challenges facing communities across our state.
We passed much needed reforms to the CAUV formula to protect family farms from the up-and-down swings of commodity prices.
We stripped out language that would have put Columbus in charge of collecting local taxes, instead of local communities. And in the face of declining revenues, we agreed there would be no additional tax shifting – despite the governor’s wish for yet another tax break for the wealthy. For these reasons, I voted for the budget bill.
However, there were three major concerns from my perspective that I hope will be addressed as the budget process continues. First, the education funding formula overinflated agricultural land values, meaning schools in rural communities will get less financial support from the state; the state’s per pupil share was inadequately raised only $20 per student the first year with no increase in the second; and, charter schools continue to take tax dollars from public schools to fund their operations.
CAUV reform should, in the long run, address the issue of overinflated agricultural property valuations. But even though Democrats offered amendments to increase the per-pupil share and to stop charter schools from taking away money from public schools, these proposals were tabled along party lines. Those challenges remain.
I also continue to be concerned about underfunding our local communities and our libraries. An amendment with bipartisan support was offered to properly invest in our local communities, but it was rejected by the majority party.
The legislature is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget. In the coming weeks you will hear much about how the Senate will be forced to make additional cuts to meet this requirement. And additional cuts may come as a result of shrinking revenues. In its defense, the House made the best of the situation it could given the information we had at the time.
Lemonade is the drink of the day.
Going forward there are changes that must be made to get Ohio back on track. In columns to follow, I will propose a vision for Ohio and a pathway to achieve those desired results. Stay tuned.