State funding cuts demand creativity from public officials

If there’s a phrase that aptly de- scribes what local governments, school districts and even area universities and colleges are facing today, it’s: “We’re all in this together.” But the phrase should be more than just an expression of empathy for what lies ahead for the local entities as a result of the state funding cuts proposed by Gov. John Kasich.

No one in Ohio can claim to have been surprised by the across-the-board reduction in state spending. During last November’s general election, Kasich made it clear that the anticipated $8 billion shortfall in revenue would require sacrifice from everyone. He also insisted that there would be no tax increase.

His biennial spending plan unveiled Tuesday was consistent with his campaign promises.

Public officials must decide how they will absorb the cuts in funding. As the graphic on the front page of Wednesday’s Vindicator showed, Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana county governments will all take a hit if the Republican controlled General Assembly adopts the Republican governor’s budget. Mahoning would lose $2.4 million in its Local Government Fund allocation; Trumbull, $2.25 million; and Columbiana, $1.05 million.

The two largest communities in the area, Youngstown and Warren, would be short $1.51 million and $850,000, respectively. Among the largest townships, Boardman would lose $335,000, while Austintown would give up $256,000.

The story is much the same for school districts and for Youngstown State University, the Eastern Gateway Community College and Kent State University’s branch campuses.

In other words, the pain has been spread around, perhaps not equally, but everyone will feel a twinge.

All over the state, local public officials are trying to figure out how to deal with the revenue reduction.

During Gov. Kasich’s town hall meeting Tuesday, an audience member pointed out that Kasich made deep cuts in his budget and refused to consider raising taxes, then asked: Doesn’t that mean local governments and school districts will be forced to raise their taxes in order to make up the shortfall?

Change in culture

Kasich responded that Ohio needs a change in culture on the part of public entities at all levels. Rather than increasing taxes they should reduce their costs through such initiatives as centralized purchasing, health insurance cooperatives and changes in work place rules.

If local entities take the easy way out and raise taxes, he warned, the loss of jobs through the exodus of companies would be even more painful than the cuts in state funding.

The bottom line: Public entities must become creative in the way they operate, which, in the case of Mahoning and Trumbull counties means resurrecting the proposal by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber to change the structure of government, as has been done in Cuyahoga County.

It is also time to give serious consideration to the creation of a metropolitan court system in Mahoning County.

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