Ohio’s State Budget Debate

DAYTON, Ohio (April 2017) – Here we are once again about 60 days out from a mandated balanced state budget and our leaders are still negotiating the priorities for Ohio for the fiscal years of 2018-2019.

Without a doubt, this is a big job; but they’ve had plenty of practice. Spend more or spend less – cut more or cut less – gore more or gore few? One thing is for sure, they can’t or won’t please everybody – or anybody – but maybe that’s actually the strategy.

But with our combined knowledge of the pressing issues, can’t we decide on our highest priorities and reduce some budgets so as to invest in others? Six, almost seven years ago and then again two years later, some of us created a state plan called “Redesigning Ohio” where we offered priorities that would save millions in tax dollars that could then be re-invested in responsible actions that would drive Ohio to a more competitive advantage versus other surrounding states. We also said if we didn’t take some bold measures in state government reform, more and more – each and every day – the burden of government services would fall more on the local level – yep – your property tax duplicate. Oh, by the way, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government recognized this study and its recommendations by those nine (9) Ohio chambers of commerce as one of the best reports on government efficiency in the nation.

In fairness, we did make some good progress and some worthwhile changes were made; but still not yet enough. We are still bloated in some areas and not focusing our attention on long-term strategic measures that will take us past Ohio’s next gubernatorial election. We must invest in areas that will strengthen us 5, 10 or 20 years out if we want our children and grandchildren to stay in Ohio and have successful careers.

  • Education – We are blessed with many outstanding higher education institutions both public and private 4 year plus universities and a strong community college system sandwiched in between them and K-12. We have some great and some not-so-great K-12 school systems. Where we miss the boat too often is the connection of students, parents and teachers with local career opportunities and our business community. If we can’t do a better job investing here, we are doomed for another generation – or two – of unskilled, mismatched workers in jobs we already have or will have in the future.
  • Infrastructure – This is more than just highways and bridges; more than just “build it and they will come” (remember Field of Dreams?). But to be honest, it is also about highways and bridges and the next generation of cable and fiber. It’s also about energy, whether it be gas, the electric grid or other renewables and water, including updated delivery systems. Nothing lasts forever; and these systems must be maintained and improved through public-private partnerships. We don’t want to be (we can’t afford to be) an aging state of Flints. Their image will take a generation to reverse.
  • Health & Human Services – I could write a book or talk for hours about the changing healthcare systems; safety nets and those who need quality care. But that seems obvious with everything playing out on the big screen in Washington. But what about here – Dayton, Xenia, Kettering, Troy – all around us is an opioid problem that is getting worse not better. We see that news and read about the death and family destruction and, let’s be honest, we individually thank God it didn’t happen in our own family – or at least not tonight. But the destruction has long-lasting impacts on our families; employers and yes, our tax dollars. If we could fix this we might be able to use those long-term resources for something else, like feeding our hungry or educating our children or fixing our roads and bridges.

This state budget is not the panacea to all of our ills; far from it. I’m just as fond as the rest of you about paying less taxes. But to be honest with you, if our leaders would figure out ways to spend less in certain non-crucial areas, I would gladly give up my half or one percent reduction if they would use it and some of that expense savings that we all know can be had and then invest it over the next 2, 6 or 10 years in areas we know will make a strategic difference in the future of Ohio, our children and children’s children.

As our leaders debate this 2-year, $144 billion budget over the next 6 weeks, I look forward to watching our state’s definition of state-supported strategic priorities and if my and your tax dollars will be used efficiently, effectively, wisely and strategically.

To download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Dayton Daily News, click here.

Phillip L. Parker, CAE, CCE

President & CEO

Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce