There is not a region anywhere in Ohio that has more at stake in the outcome of Gov. John Kasich’s “jobs budget” than the greater Mahoning Valley. One need only look at the population losses that have occurred just since the last census — revealing the worst decline in population of any major metropolitan area in the nation — to recognize that we have a serious employment opportunity problem here.
The solution to this problem is not more government “help” programs. We have seen what that has done for the Valley. Up until now, frankly, the state government has failed to learn the lessons that are vital to reviving a business that is in recession — lessons like slashing overhead expenses, giving the customer better value while containing costs, and using 21st century technology to improve efficiency. These are lessons that Columbus now seems poised to embrace, however. What a welcome development.
Last December, the Regional Chamber joined other leading business organizations in releasing a report called Redesigning Ohio. It called for fundamental change in the way government operates in our state. Simply put, it called for government to operate like a business, giving its investors — read, taxpayers — good value for their money. Gov. Kasich’s budget proposal adopted many of these recommendations. In particular, his jobs budget closes an $8 billion gap in the state budget without raising taxes. Combined state and local taxes in Ohio are already higher than in most states, putting us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting new business investment. The last thing we need now is a higher tax burden. That would be a job killer.
While local governments and school districts face funding reductions in the state budget, the natural reaction may be to go to the voters for higher local taxes. This would be a mistake. The jobs budget contains numerous tools to help local government entities operate more efficiently and share services to hold down costs. The Trumbull County Roundtable recently hosted a session for Mahoning Valley local governments on this very topic. Ohio’s 3,700 local governments and 613 school districts are already a major source of the tax burden Ohioans bear. If Ohio is going to be nationally and internationally competitive again, these entities must hold down their costs. The well is dry.
Public sector reforms
There are ways of containing costs that don’t involve laying off teachers and safety forces. With the proposed public sector reforms more funds will be available for public expenditures “in the class room” and “on the street”. But this will require strong and determined leadership by the elected members of our school boards and our councils of local government. The Kasich budget gives them the tools to be successful.
There can be no question but that Ohio finds itself at a critical crossroad, not unlike the federal government. The Mahoning Valley, in particular, could be a poster child for the ravaging effects of the joblessness, the grinding poverty and the decline in population that characterize highly taxed and highly regulated states. Either we chart a new course now, or we slide into a deeper malaise.
Johnson is CEO of Summitville Tiles, Inc; a board member of the Ohio Business Alliance for Higher Education and the Economy, and chairman of the Columbiana County Republican Party.