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COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich and Republican lawmakers are putting Ohioans’ safety at risk by starving local governments while pursuing tax cuts and banking huge surpluses, police and professional firefighters claimed on Thursday.
Safety services union leaders contend they’ve been shut out of talks as the proposed budget for the next two years has moved from the governor, through the House, and to the Senate. The Local Government Fund was slashed by 25 percent in each of the last two years, and the effects would not be erased in the next proposal.
The Ohio Fraternal Order of Police and Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters accused the administration of breaking a “covenant” that local government aid would rise and fall in line with state revenues.
“In the 2011-2013 budget, the state was facing a massive shortfall to maintain their balanced budget, and one of the ways they balanced their budget was by removing $1 billion from local governments,” said Ohio FOP President Jay McDonald of Marion. “While that caused pain … we understood because the money was needed to balance the state budget.
“So here comes the second budget,” he said. “This budget provides $200 million less in local government funding than the last budget. Things didn’t get better.… When you add in the loss of the estate tax on top of the cuts in local government funds, it’s even worse than it was before.”
As of the end of April, state tax collections were running $570.6 million, or 3.4 percent, ahead of projections. Total state revenues, including investment earnings and fees, were running more than $1 billion, or 4.5 percent, ahead.
“We agree that public safety officers need to have the resources necessary to keep people safe, and the good news is that, because of the 147,000 private-sector jobs that have been created under our watch, tax revenue flowing into local governments that help pay for public safety is expected to grow by $1.7 billion between 2012 and 2014,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.
He argued that the Local Government Fund represents a small sliver of the $14 billion that the state provides to local governments through debt service, tax relief, and other revenue sharing. The $200 million represents just 1 percent of that, he said. “One percent is very manageable,” Mr. Nichols said.
The governor’s original budget proposal also called for replenishing the state’s “rainy day fund” reserves to its statutory $1.5 billion limit after the coffers had nearly run dry. That has largely been preserved in the House and Senate versions.
“It’s still raining in local government,” said OAPFF President Mark Sanders, a Cincinnati fire captain. “We’re still trying to do more with less.”
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.