Gov. Kasich and the General Assembly recently passed a highly controversial budget, which took effect on July 1. Some Republicans have criticized state Rep. Nick Barborak for voting against the budget, as did state Sen. Joe Schiavoni. Who's right? It would be easy to simply say that the Republicans are wrong and the Democrats are right. But, that doesn't get us very far. The better question, I believe, is to ask, "Why should you care about Ohio's budget battles?"
You should care because the state budget is not just about numbers. It's about people, and it's about priorities. Budgets reflect 'what' and in many cases, 'who' political parties value. For example, this past week, when flooding hit the southern portion of our county, local police officers, firefighters and road workers went to work to save lives. Yet, two year ago, Gov. Kasich made it harder for them to do so when he slashed $200 million from local government funds and another $200 million in tangible personal property tax reimbursements. These deep cuts mean local governments have fewer resources to keep us safe. They also mean more potholes and weaker infrastructure for all of us. As a citizen-and as a voter-you should care about the state budget because it lays bare what each party values. So, with the Republicans in complete control of state government, the question their budget answers is: "Who and what do Republicans value?"
Let's start with taxes. Ohio's wealthiest do very well under this budget. The top 1 percent of wealthy Ohioans get a tax benefit of $6,000 per year. The poorest 20 percent will see a tax increase because of a sales tax hike on goods and services. And, the rest of use, you ask? Well, the rest of us-the people who get up and go to work everyday-we will also pay those higher sales taxes but, in the end, we get a meager $50-or less than $1 per week. In other words, the Republican's chose to value wealthy individuals over middle class families, yet their political message is: we gave the middle class a tax cut.
How about education? Republicans talk about more money for schools, and in the political world of spin, that's true. But, it is equally true, that the governor's first budget two years ago slashed $2.9 billion from public schools, and this "new" budget fails to restore those devastating cuts. In so doing, Republicans choose to redistribute money from public schools to give poorly performing charter schools great subsidies. New levies, which will be needed to offset the difference, will cost local taxpayers. So, in school districts like Columbiana, who must ask the taxpayers to pass a levy to operate, the Republican budget chooses to place the quality of public education in jeopardy to advance a social agenda that favors private schooling over public education.
What about seniors? This budget raises property taxes on many seniors and disabled Ohioans by making it harder for them to qualify for the homestead exemption. To make matters worse, Gov. Kasich also took away the state's rollback of real property taxes. In plain English, this means Republicans are choosing to ask some folks on a fixed income to pay a lot more in property taxes to cover the cost of their other social and political parties. That's not good policy and it's not fair.
In short, the budget represents Republican values and choices, as it passed because of Republican votes. Their budget continues to place greater burdens on our public schools, local communities, seniors, and the middle class. Ohio needs a budget focused on jobs, not social engineering, as made clear in a recent Pew Research study which found that Ohio ranks 47th in the country in job creation. And, we need a budget that chooses to invest in our people and our communities. This Republican budget fails to help in any of these areas, and it is for these reasons that both state Rep. Barborak and state Sen. Schiavoni voted against the choices and values in Gov. Kasich's budget. Their 'no' vote was the right thing for Columbiana County, and the right thing for Ohio.
Dennis C. Johnson
Columbiana County Democratic Party Chairman