Local governments won’t see much of Ohio’s budget surplus

Gov. John Kasich’s second two- year budget is much like the first in that it expects local governments to basically fend for themselves.

Although the biennium spending blueprint the governor has submitted to the General Assembly contains a small increase in the Local Government Fund, the proposed allocation does not restore the deep cuts made in the two fiscal years that began July 2011.

The total 50 percent reduction in what local governments had received in the prior biennium caused significant disruptions in counties, cites, townships and villages across the state.

In 2011, just after he took office, Republican Kasich, who defeated Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland, contended that he had inherited an $8 billion operating budget shortfall and, therefore, was forced to develop a lean biennium budget with across-the-board cuts.

By contrast, when Kasich and his fiscal team unveiled the upcoming two-year spending plan, they touted the fact that Ohio is looking forward to a rainy day fund (surplus) of nearly $2 billion this year.

Not surprisingly, state legislators, who have to return home and face not only their constituents but local government officials, are wondering why some of the surplus isn’t being used to restore funding to the pre-2011 levels.

Here’s how Tim Keen, the director of the Office of Budget and Management, answered that query at a hearing of the House Finance Committee: “We have a state law system in place that provides the local governments a means to raise revenue to cover their costs. These are decisions that local governments and citizens ought to make.”

To drive home the point, he added, “I think it’s appropriate that the taxes are raised by the jurisdiction where the services are provided. … This budget contains a local government fund at a level that the administration is comfortable with.”

Translation: Don’t look to Columbus for any more money than what is in the Kasich’s budget.

The idea that residents at the local level will willingly pay more in taxes for government services or for schools is not borne out by the facts. The national economic recession has forced taxpayers to tighten their belts, and they expect the public sector to do the same.

Even the renewal of some long-established levies have been rejected at the polls.

The bottom line is this: Cuts in funding from the state and federal governments have pushed local entities to the brink.

Doing more with less

Gov. Kasich has strongly advocated that governments at all levels do more with less. However, when operating budgets are cut to the bone, it’s unfair to demand even deeper spending reductions.

The legislative hearing on the governor’s budget should last about a month. Kasich administration officials will appear before various committees to justify the biennium spending plan.

Legislators should invite local government officials, such as those from the Mahoning Valley, to explain how the deep cuts in the Local Government Fund have affected their operations.

In the end, the health, safety and welfare of the people of Ohio must remain a priority.

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