Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Marilou Johanek

Taft budget squeezes the life out of Ohio

It's not easy being an Ohioan these days. The top Republican in the state wants to squeeze every last drop of our hard-earned dollars for taxes and fees to compensate for poor fiscal management in Columbus. We live with a quality of life deficit that includes rising unemployment and little job growth, poor schools, unaffordable colleges, unattainable housing, and skyrocketing prescription costs. Is it any wonder that the best and brightest high-tail it somewhere else?

The problem is state leadership that isn't. You don't have to be a budget expert to grasp the head-in-the-sand mentality that got Ohio into its sorry fiscal mess. While the rest of us were occupied with the mundane facts of life, our state leaders took the easy, most politically rewarding way out of responsible financial stewardship. When the governor and his GOP comrades in Columbus settled in for a cozy ride after the governor's 1999 inauguration, they had a surplus to burn and did.

Economic slowdown in the cards? What's to worry when you're awash in revenue? Years of unresolved school funding issues? Punt. It worked before. Higher education? Academia is never satisfied. Let colleges and universities live with what they get and be grateful. Could be worse. Can you say tuition caps?

Who knew things would turn sour so soon? Who knew demands on the state budget would overtake plummeting revenue in short order? Plenty, that's who. State Sen. Eric Fingerhut is right. “This was not a sudden crisis.” The Cleveland Democrat called Gov. Bob Taft's role over the last few years nothing less than “malfeasance to have brought the state into the condition that it's now in.”

But bad economic news must travel slowly downstate where state leaders appeared unaware of the scope of the crisis until after the midterm elections.

Even Mr. Taft's own Office of Budget and Management couldn't deadpan rosy revenue projections convincingly after being forced to revise previous projections downward three times in the last 14 months.

The same Bob Taft who labeled Tim Hagan's plan to raise taxes and cut spending to erase a projected $4 billion shortfall a “risky scheme” proposed virtually the same thing some 90 days later.

He stood before state lawmakers with his proposed $49.2 billion tax-and-spend budget and insisted his plan to spend 4.9 percent more the first year and 4.2 percent more the second year could fly because he'd raise billions in new taxes.

Somehow, I don't think the man born into a political dynasty was ever really meant to be a politician. He hasn't the backbone to spearhead what needs to be done - like a temporary increase in corporate and individual income taxes - to rescue a sinking ship. He knows his conservative brothers in the Statehouse would never buy it, so why try?

The legislature is in denial about the state's financial mess, preferring to while away its time on inane issues like concealed carry and a moment of silence in schools. Now, in desperation, the governor is appealing to them to approve his last-ditch effort to stabilize the shaky financial state of the state.

But his plan is skewed to extract a pound of flesh from the sinners who smoke and drink and make life even more difficult for the poorest of the poor who depend on the state for medical care.

Mr. Taft vows to level the playing field once the state's antiquated and inequitable tax code is changed and Ohio businesses shoulder their fair share of the burden. Meanwhile, he'll balance the budget on the backs of the little people.

His plan, however, still has to pass muster with Statehouse Republicans, and what passes for leadership in Columbus these days would rather jump off a cliff than approve any tax or fee increase.

So Ohioans live with less and emigrate more to other regions of the country that give them room to grow. Hit the light switch on the way out.

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