A tool kit for Ohio’s revival

Toledo Blade - January 23, 2011

by Amy Hanauer, in The Toledo Blade

As Ohio’s new governor, John Kasich, begins his term, this is a perfect moment for our state to rethink priorities and map new paths. High unemployment, big budget shortfalls, the continued erosion of our industrial base — our problems might feel overwhelming. But during and after our country’s toughest economic time, the Great Depression, Americans created Social Security, wove our safety net, established unemployment insurance, and encouraged other innovations that generated the world’s first real middle class.

Throughout the past century, we moved forward. In times even less prosperous than these, we still invested in education, the environment, infrastructure, workers, and families. The result was a state that offered greater equity, more entryways to the middle class, and cleaner, safer communities.

Despite new challenges, we must build on Ohio’s past accomplishments, not let them erode. Good public policy has the power to improve education, productivity, safety, and security.

But bad policy can do the opposite. In the past generation, we allowed economic inequality to reach Depression-level heights. We ignored manufacturing and let job quality deteriorate. We deregulated, allowing toxic mortgages, loans, and food to be marketed and sold to Ohio families.

We watched suburbs gobble green space, resulting in an ever-greater need for polluting and imported fossil fuels. We let cities, counties, and states engage in mutually self-destructive competition to slash taxes, starving public budgets everywhere.

This must change. Here are a half-dozen ways in which Governor Kasich can lead us back to prosperity.

Restore revenues. Together with other changes, the 2005 remake of the tax system is costing Ohio $2.1 billion a year in net revenue. That is straining our ability to provide security, education, and basic necessities.

With the General Assembly, the governor can restore the highest income-tax bracket, get rid of tax exemptions and abatements, and ensure that the new corporate tax system generates the revenue that the old one did.

Shrink some spending. Most of what the public sector does is needed. The assertion that we can have a better state while delivering less is fiction. Roads, public transportation, schools, universities, and a social safety net enrich our lives, but they cost money.

Some policies, however, cost more and deliver less: sentencing nonviolent, low-level offenders to costly prisons, giving new tax abatements despite now-low corporate tax rates, and shifting elderly residents from more economical at-home care to nursing homes.

Mr. Kasich has expressed interest in fixing some of these problems. Policy Matters Ohio and other groups are ready to help.

Invest in energy. The governor is right to support Ohio’s advanced-energy standard, which is creating new markets for our products while reducing emissions. He also can commit to commuter transit; workers and employers rely on these systems, which vitalize cities and reduce energy use. Ohio could have a great supply chain in transit manufacturing.

Most buildings remain inefficient; Governor Kasich could put Ohioans back to work on retrofits. We’d be happy to provide a tool kit for how to renovate communities.

Advance assets. Through legislation and referendum, Ohioans tried to eradicate exploitative payday loans, but these lenders still prey on poor families. We should get rid of payday lending once and for all.

At the same time, a state earned-income tax credit and structures to help families save would improve income security.

Target training; work on work. Too many Ohioans are out of work, as Governor Kasich has rightly lamented. He can work with his friend, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, to ensure more federal aid for re-employing people in our state.

Retain public employees; they fill important needs while stabilizing our economy. Strategize with employers and unions about how best to retrain workers for future jobs and guarantee job quality. Bolstering labor law enforcement would improve workers’ lives and ensure that Ohio gets all the tax revenue it is owed by employers.

Educate. About 90 percent of Ohio’s children attend public schools. We must provide solid funding, support innovation and teacher training, and strengthen the public system so that it works for all Ohio students.

Ohio has tremendous parks, neighborhoods, lakes, libraries, and people. What Governor Kasich does will determine whether these assets thrive or wither. We wish him luck.

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