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Thursday, November 27, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 3/16/2014

GUEST COLUMN

Ohio, stop swallowing the tax-cut elixir

We’ve stopped dreaming about what we can do to build a better future for all Ohioans

BY GAVIN DEVORE LEONARD
Leonard Leonard
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Ohioans have been sold the same magic potion, over and over, for nearly a decade: If we cut taxes, we’ll get jobs and growth and everyone will benefit. We can pay less and get more.

The tax-cut magic hasn’t worked, and we shouldn’t keep buying it. When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Since the major state tax overhaul of 2005 under then-Gov. Bob Taft, businesses haven’t flocked to Ohio, wealth has not trickled down, and we’re under-investing in exactly the areas that we know work. When you combine all of the tax changes over the past decade — including a double-down on the Taft tax cuts last year — we now have $3 billion less to invest every year.

With that kind of price tag, we should see the difference. But most Ohioans probably don’t even know they’ve gotten a state income tax cut. Our state’s ranking of 48th in the nation in the rate of job creation since June, 2005, probably doesn’t surprise poor, working-class, and middle-income Ohioans who are just trying to hold steady.

Politicians are too eager to pursue the easy answer when hard truth is required. Reasonable state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should consider a different approach from that taken by our past three governors — one that benefits all Ohioans.

The vast majority of Ohioans could agree on the foundation of a good life: We want a job that pays the bills. We want a safe, affordable place to live. We want to be able to raise a family and grow old with dignity.

We want enough health care and financial security so that even if we take a wrong step, we’re not down for the count. And we want parks, roads, libraries, recreation centers, and other public services that make life easier and more enjoyable for us and our neighbors.

Building this opportunity for every Ohioan takes investment, now and in the future. By choosing tax cuts instead, we’ve spent nearly a decade going in the wrong direction. We can get our economy back on track by investing in great education, great infrastructure, and great services.

We should have high-quality preschool education, which is widely recognized as instrumental to lifelong success. Yet it’s something far too many Ohio children don’t get, because we’re not investing the way Florida, Georgia, and Oklahoma are.

We should have adequate and equitable public school funding; all schools should have reasonable class sizes, broad course offerings, and tools for 21st century learning. We should be making Ohio’s great colleges and universities more affordable. Instead, we rank 43rd in higher-education spending per student; that investment has been cut in half since 1998.

Investing in infrastructure means fixing the 5,700 bridges that the County Engineers Association of Ohio estimates are structurally deficient or “fracture critical.” It means making public transportation accessible to many more Ohioans, to protect our environment and help folks get to work.

Investing in services that provide for the common good makes good common sense — especially those services that provide a hand up to Ohioans who are most in need. The expansion of Ohio’s Medicaid program is a vital step. But when nearly one in four Ohio children live in poverty, we have a problem that requires big new ideas and investment.

We should do all of these things, and we can do them. But it’s high time we acknowledged the serious damage done by the idea that tax cuts will lead to prosperity. Beyond all the investments we haven’t made, we’ve stopped dreaming about what we can do to build a better future for all Ohioans.

There is no magic potion, and more of the same is not the answer. It’s time to get back to basics.

Gavin DeVore Leonard is state director of One Ohio Now, a coalition of more than 90 health and human-service organizations, labor unions, and advocacy groups.



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