We all knew that the new budget would bring a lot of controversy. Why? Because cuts had to be made. The only question was where they would be made.
John Kasich said early on that his administration would not continue to kick the can down the road like his predecessor did, that his new budget would reflect the new reality of Ohio’s revenue due to flat population growth and massive job losses.
While Democrats have of course used every cut as a means to an attack, folks who are intellectually honest about the situation know that the new budget reflects a responsible reaction to the new reality, and not a political agenda.
Well, this is different.
Ohio has a governor who isn’t sugarcoating a fiscal crisis and isn’t frantically mining the couch cushions for one-time nickels and dimes to stave off the inevitable.
Instead, Gov. John Kasich is giving Ohio a straight-from-the-shoulder budget that reflects reality.
Ohio’s books show an imbalance of at least $6.2 billion, and probably more like $8 billion. Surprise at an austerity budget simply isn’t an option.
Nor should there be any surprise at the unhappy mooing from cows who are coming to the realization that they’re no longer sacred.
Hardest hit in the new budget is local government funding. But, doesn’t this actually make sense?
Did you know that 85% of the GRF budget is spent at the local government level? That’s an amazing statistic.
Why are we sending so many tax dollars to Columbus, when most of them end up coming back to our own communities to be spent?
Liberals are arguing that school districts and local governments will be forced to ask for tax increases to make up for the cuts. Of course, to liberals, the answer is always to raise taxes. But there is another way to offset revenue cuts. Get leaner, be smarter and be more efficient. The Plain Dealer agrees with this, as well.
Kasich’s caution that local governments refrain from raising taxes is not particularly realistic given the size of the hammer blow, and Ohio’s traditional — albeit, traditionally shortsighted — reliance on local taxes. But Kasich’s aim is true: to force local governments to change the way they operate.
It’s a goal Ohio’s fractured localities must embrace.
The private sector has been undergoing an often painful structural transformation for decades. Companies have used technology to drive efficiency. They constantly re-evaluate what they do and how they do it.
Governments, on the other hand, too often behave as if it’s still 1960 — or will be, once tax receipts rebound.
During the first part of the 20th century, when Greater Cleveland’s population and wealth were soaring, governments proliferated. Cuyahoga County now has 59 municipalities and 31 school districts. Voters tolerated redundancy to enjoy autonomy. They could afford it.
Not anymore. For the past decade, smart mayors and city managers have been looking to shave costs by trimming employees and joining with neighbors to buy supplies in bulk. The day Kasich unveiled his budget, five mayors in eastern Cuyahoga County agreed to create a joint SWAT unit and explore sharing other specialized units.
They’ve got the right idea, but they and their counterparts need to go farther, faster.
But the proposed changes don’t represent only loss; they also lay the foundation for leaner government across Ohio. That can only brighten the state’s business climate, which could hasten the job development and economic recovery that Ohioans desperately need.
All levels of Ohio government must change to be able to function more efficiently. In the short run, that balances today’s budget; in the long run, it can lead to a nimbler, more-responsive government and a better quality of life for all Ohioans.
Besides, even when school districts and local governments do ask to raise taxes, it is still up to the voters to do so.
In fact, an individual voter has much more influence on his local tax rate, and the size and scope of his local government, than he has influence at the state or federal level.
Most of the government services we count on come from the local level. Schools, police and fire protection are examples of this. So it only makes sense that the communities themselves should have more say in the size of the government that provides those services.
So…isn’t empowering the voters with more control over their local governments a good thing?