Taft's warning of difficult economic times troubling
While Gov. Bob Taft's state budget forecast must have sent a shudder through cities such as Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, it caused an earthquake in the Mahoning Valley. That's because this region's economic revitalization effort is inextricably tied to state government.
For example, the most important job-preservation project in decades -- General Motors Corp.'s plan to build its new compact cars at its Lordstown assembly facility -- became a reality only after the state stepped up to the plate with an economic incentive package for keeping the Lordstown plant operating.
We are confident that the incentive package will not be affected by Taft's warning of tough economic times in Ohio over the next two years, but we worry that other job-creation initiatives will fall victim to the budget crisis.
In his year-end interview with Vindicator correspondent Jeff Ortega, the governor was brutally honest in his appraisal of what Ohioans should expect. He said that the prospective two-year budget has the potential to be "one of the most difficult budgets in Ohio's history." If early speculation of the deficit holds up, the governor and the Ohio General Assembly will be scrambling to make up $4 billion in the next two years. While Taft has refused to embrace such speculation, he did describe the projected shortfall as "a substantial budget gap that we need to fill."
First in line
But in filling the gap, we would urge the governor not to treat all regions of the state alike. We would argue that those areas that have traditionally received more than their fair share of state dollars should be asked to bite the bullet, while regions such as the Mahoning Valley should be first in line for whatever assistance is available from the state
Why? Because over the years, the Valley has been penalized for what past administrations have characterized as our inability to present a clear vision, a realistic job-creation plan, and our failure to speak with one voice. But as the General Motors project has shown, the public and private sectors in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties can work together for the greater good. Indeed, GM officials made mention of that spirit of cooperation during their announcement of the Lordstown plant's future.
The governor himself in recent months has praised the Valley for its sense of purpose and for proposing projects that not only can succeed, but parallel his high-technology initiative called Third Frontier.
We would hope that the state's budget crisis does not result in the administration's backing away from its commitment to be a partner in these endeavors. Other areas in Ohio have been able to ride out the storm because their economies are built on foundations of substantial state funding. The Valley has not been so blessed, which is why it continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates in Ohio.
This region deserves to be at the top of the governor's priority list.