By Ed FitzGerald
Gov. John Kasich and his team often speak of what they have deemed an “Ohio Miracle.” They claim, over the past three years, their policies have thrown our economy into over-drive, cut taxes, all without depriving Ohio’s locals of resources necessary to foster strong schools and safe communities. As a former FBI agent and county prosecutor, I’ve heard my fair share of tall tales, but this one takes the cake.
Here’s the real story: John Kasich inherited a recovery that began a full year before he took office. In that year, Ohio’s unemployment rate fell by a full point and a half, from 10.6 to 9 percent. Since then, Ohio’s recovery has slowed as newly regressive policies that squeeze the middle class have taken effect. On the governor’s first day in office, Ohio ranked 29th in annual job growth as measured by Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business. Today, we’re 46th in the nation in job growth and a greater percentage of Ohioans have given up looking for work than at any point in the past 30 years. Clearly, the state is not headed in the right direction.
But even as Ohio falls behind, there’s one group of Ohioans whose interests are being taken care of by this governor: the wealthy and well-connected. If ever this tendency of the governor to reward the rich was on full display, it was in his recently enacted biennial budget. The governor has gone to great pains to label this a tax cut for everyone, but as ever, the devil is in the details. In this case, while the wealthiest Ohioans will, on average, receive a $6,000 handout under the governor’s tax plan, middle-class individuals earning about $50,000 a year will see about $9 — not quite enough to buy a pizza. Truly not all tax cuts are created equal.
Of course, in order to pay for this tax shift that disproportionately favors the rich, someone else has to pay more — and it’s no surprise that it’s middle-class families and seniors left to foot the bill. For the first time in a decade, Ohio’s sales tax has been raised — forcing every Ohioan to pay more on the purchases they make every day.
By November, all new property tax levies passed at the local level will cost taxpayers 12.5 percent more — amounting to hundreds of dollars a year in new out-of-pocket costs. This tax hike ends a nearly 40-year practice of helping Ohioans pay their property taxes, keeping them affordable and predictable. Meanwhile, seniors on fixed incomes are on the hook as well, since Gov. Kasich’s budget eliminates the homestead exemption on property taxes for Ohioans over the age of 65 who make more than $30,000 a year.
So we’ve established that middle-class Ohioans are likely to pay more. Under this governor, they’re also getting less in return, particularly when it comes to education and public safety. And now, over a quarter of Ohio school districts stand to receive less state funding than they did during the last school year, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In the Mahoning Valley, that means millions less each year for Boardman, Canfield, Poland, West Branch, and other local schools. On top of the harm to schools, the governor has also slashed the Local Government Fund in half, eliminating support for fire, police, and basic public safety services at the local level.
Think about it this way: John Kasich has made his choice. He’s comfortable lavishing tax breaks on the rich while slashing funding for schools and local communities. I believe that’s the wrong choice — that we have an obligation to provide our children with a first-class education and to ensure our communities are as safe as possible.
In Cuyahoga County, we were able to balance our budget without raising taxes, all while investing in our children and their future. If my home county can find a way to set the proper priorities, there’s no reason the state shouldn’t be able to, too. In order to put Ohio back on the road to economic prosperity, the state of Ohio must re-prioritize its support for the middle class.
Unfortunately, those currently in office in Columbus appear to be more interested in talking about miracles than in helping the middle class to prosper. As governor, I will do everything I can to ensure that working families are a top priority in the state of Ohio.
Ed FitzGerald is Cuyahoga County executive and a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014. He is a former FBI agent and county prosecutor.