Crunching the Ohio numbers in Romney's plan


Mitt Romney is routinely, and often justly, criticized for his vague and shifting policy positions. But on some issues of taxes, spending, and health care, the Republican nominee is all too clear about where he would take the country as president.

Two liberal advocacy groups, Innovation Ohio in Columbus and the Washington-based Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAP Action), crunched the numbers attached to Mr. Romney's economic agenda to determine what it would mean for Ohio. Their new report concludes that his program would raise taxes on middle-class Ohioans, while costing our state more than $10 billion a year in federal aid.

Mr. Romney's Ohio campaign immediately condemned the study as "an attempt to cover up for President Obama's failure to fix our economy." The report surely is more credible than that. But whether or not you're inclined to accept its conclusions, its effort to bring specific numbers to the debate deserves your attention rather than dismissal.

Tom Perriello, president of CAP Action, is a former Democratic congressman from Virginia who lost his re-election bid in the GOP/Tea Party tidal wave of 2010. He says Mr. Romney's budget and tax proposals "would raise taxes on a police officer in Toledo to give Sheldon Adelson [a billionaire casino mogul and major Republican campaign contributor] a huge tax cut."

"A lot of people will make up their minds about this election based on what it means at their kitchen table," Mr. Perriello told me during a visit to The Blade last week. "We used the most conservative estimates and the clearest statements of [Mr. Romney's] economic vision. The numbers are shocking."

The report is based on Mr. Romney's stated proposals to reduce income tax rates, limit overall federal spending while changing spending priorities, and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Among its conclusions about the effects of Mr. Romney's economic plan on Ohio:

Ohio's 5,800 millionaires would get an extra tax cut of $87,000, while middle-class families could pay as much as $1,900 a year in higher taxes on employer-provided health insurance and nearly $1,100 more in taxes from a cut in the home mortgage-interest deduction.

Ohio would lose more than $106 billion in federal funding between 2013 and 2022, in such areas as basic and higher education, health care, law enforcement, job training, and infrastructure repair and construction.

Mr. Romney's vow to repeal Obamacare would jeopardize health insurance for 97,000 young adults in Ohio who are now covered by their parents' plans; Mr. Romney said last week he wants to maintain that benefit, without specifying how he would pay for it.

The end of Obamacare also could deprive 1.9 million women in Ohio of free preventive care and screenings for disease. Reopening the Medicare "donut hole" would cost 70,000 elderly Ohioans another $660 million a year for prescription drug costs.

Ohio's 125,000 jobs in clean-energy industries such as wind and solar power -- a foundation of northwest Ohio's efforts to diversify its economy -- would be threatened by Mr. Romney's proposals.

Mr. Romney's opposition to new auto fuel-economy standards could cost Ohio as many as 21,000 jobs that standards would create.

Janetta King, president of Innovation Ohio and policy director under former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, says the campaign theme of economic fairness is "starting to settle in" among Ohio voters.

"The narrative has changed," she says. "The anti-tax, anti-government forces had been harnessing the frustration of voters. Now the message is resonating that [Mr. Romney's] tax proposals just aren't good for the middle class."

The Romney campaign says the Ohio report is poisoned by liberal bias and flawed assumptions and projections. "Ohioans know better than to fall for these distractions from Barack Obama's political allies," a campaign spokesman told the Columbus Dispatch.

Much of the criticism of the report seems to take aim at the messengers rather than the message: Innovation Ohio is run by allies of Mr. Strickland. The chairman of the Center for American Progress is a former chief of staff to Democratic President Bill Clinton and co-chaired President Obama's transition team.

So they must be making their numbers up, right? Mr. Perriello offers a challenge.

"We take the candidates at their word and our methodology is transparent," he says. "If [Mr. Romney] wants to clarify his positions, we'll be the first to reconfigure our numbers."

Although the most recent polls put President Obama ahead of Mr. Romney in Ohio, the race remains close. Both candidates have virtually established second residences in the state in recent weeks. Whichever nominee wins Ohio's 18 electoral votes is likely to win the White House.

Ohio's jobless rate remains below the national average, but economic uncertainty remains a daily fact of life in our state. Polls show that Ohioans are evenly divided on whether Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama would do a better job of managing the economy.

So any effort to shift the focus of the presidential campaign from personalities, attack ads, and sound bites to facts and figures about the economy deserves commendation. Even if you're not ready to buy what Innovation Ohio and CAP Action are selling, it's still worth listening to what they have to say.


Please join me in welcoming Jeff Gerritt, The Blade's new deputy editorial page editor. Mr. Gerritt comes to The Blade from the Detroit Free Press, where he spent the past 10 years writing editorials and columns. Before that, he was a reporter for the Free Press and USA Today.

I don't have enough space to list all the major national writing awards Mr. Gerritt has won. His expose of Michigan's abysmal prison health-care system was featured on 60 Minutes. He's going to make a positive difference at this newspaper and in our community.

David Kushma is editor of The Blade.

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