A bill that abolishes new or renewed Joint Economic Development Zones passed the Ohio House of Representatives last week, much to the shock and dismay of Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins.
It’s one of the dumbest bills the House has passed in recent years — and that’s saying something. These zones are critical for the development and growth of hard-pressed urban areas, and they help to ensure that suburban areas and businesses share in the development costs and infrastructure improvements that benefit them.
Today’s economies cross municipal and even state lines. Metropolitan areas such as Toledo, Youngstown, and Cleveland need economic development strategies and policies that reflect and support the regional manner in which local economies work.
At a time when state aid to troubled municipalities has been slashed, it’s unconscionable and shortsighted that lawmakers would take from cities a tool they have to help themselves, as well as benefit the regions they anchor.
Nor can Mayor Collins, a veteran of City Council, continue to plead ignorance about pressing city issues. Officials in other Ohio municipalities have monitored the bill since it was introduced in October because of the economic damage it would do to their communities. Mr. Collins’ office should have too.
House Bill 289, sponsored by state Rep. Kirk Schuring (R., North Canton), prohibits the creation of new zones after Jan. 1, 2015, and stops current zones from being renewed when their terms expire. The measure passed last month by a vote of 89 to 8. Incredibly, that tally included affirmative votes from all of the legislators in metro Toledo.
Together, Toledo’s four Joint Economic Development Zones generate nearly $1 million in annual revenue for the city and promote regional economic development. Money for infrastructure improvements can, in turn, lure more corporate investments.
Mr. Schuring said that the zones have been used to impose taxes on central Ohio businesses rather than foster economic development, but he could cite no mischief related to Toledo’s zones. This move is clearly driven by ideology, not results. Eliminating the zones provisions would undermine this region’s business climate, growth, and ability to cooperate.
If Mayor Collins and his staff are not equipped to protect Toledo’s best interests in the General Assembly, or aren’t even aware of pending legislation that affects the region, the city and region are headed for trouble — especially with a legislature that would support a boneheaded bill such as this.
Many municipalities employ lobbyists, at least on a part-time basis, to monitor the General Assembly. At minimum, Mr. Collins should have a staff member whose duties include serving as a legislative liaison.
Mayor Collins said he is considering hiring a lobbyist to track the bill as it heads to the Senate. Toledo and other urban regions around the state can only hope that it isn’t too little, too late.