By Marc Kovac
Representatives of police and firefighters unions continue to call on state lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich to increase local government funding, saying a failure to do so will result in fewer safety services and potentially higher local taxes.
“This budget provides $200 million less in local government funding than the last budget,” said Jay McDonald, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police. “Things didn’t get better, they’ve gotten worse. ... The state is claiming to have a $2 billion surplus, and the only ones now sharing the pain are local governments.”
McDonald and Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, spoke Thursday during a press conference near the Statehouse, a little more than a month before lawmakers and Kasich are expected to complete work on a $61 billion-plus two-year spending plan.
They said local governments have been hit hard by $1 billion in local government cuts over the current biennium, noting that the number of local government employees has decreased by more than 29,000 over the past three years, compared to a 2,200 drop in state government ranks.
And they said local governments are having to seek voter approval for new tax levies to continue to provide basic services to their communities.
While the state economy recovers and officials deposit hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s rainy-day fund, local governments are suffering, Sanders said.
McDonald added, “When we continue to slice and slice and slice at the services provided by local governments and force local governments to choose between eliminating vital services or seeking new tax revenue, we believe that is fundamentally unfair.”
The press conference included comments from Jeff Younkins, a Warren firefighter for nearly three decades. He said the department received about $1.4 million in local government funding from the state two years ago; this year, it will be closer to $750,000.
“In Warren, the economy is not quite as good as it is here in the middle of the state,” he said. “We’re still struggling up there; $700,000 up there is a big loss and directly relates to us as police and firefighters and the safety services.”
But Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina, countered that there is “a lot of continued support to local governments” included in the biennial budget bill, and the state support represents a small portion of most local government spending.
“Local governments are going to have to manage,” Faber said. “If you look at a percentage that local government funds make up of most local government budgets ... you’re talking very small percentage numbers. This seems to be more of a flash than substance about local government budgets and local government spending.”