Got $400 million?

Akron Beacon Journal - October 28, 2013

This Akron Beacon Journal editorial notes that in promoting a 4 percent reduction in individual income-tax rates “Republicans at the Statehouse have applied a familiar salve to ease their differences over the Medicaid expansion.”

The proposal emerged just one day after a bipartisan majority of the State Controlling Board expanded Medicaid, fulfilling the request of Gov. John Kasich to cover, among others, a larger share of the state’s working poor.

When the Republican legislative majorities crafted the new, two-year state budget, they rejected the expansion and added $400 million for the Medicaid program as it is. Now with the expansion going forward, and $2.5 billion in federal money coming to Ohio during the biennium, that $400 million can be directed elsewhere.

The piece adds up Republican tax cuts since 2005, putting the total at 31 percent, and observes that Gov. Kasich would like to “see rates tumble lower, arguing, contrary to much evidence, that the step will spur growth and a steady upward climb in jobs and overall income.”

As these reductions go, the bulk of the relief will flow to wealthier Ohioans. Worth asking, as Policy Matters Ohio did last week, is whether there are better ways to deploy the money.

There are. The Cleveland-based think tank identifies many deserving items, noting, for instance, that $100 million would restore 1,000 police officers and 675 firefighters across the state. Cities, counties and other local government entities have had to cope with a sharp decline in funding from the state, plus the loss of revenue streams such as the estate tax (now eliminated). In Summit County, the sheriff’s office has been struggling to manage the jail effectively, staffing roughly 50 positions below minimum levels.

Many poor school districts in rural areas would benefit from resources that would allow them to offer Advanced Placement classes and other necessary academic upgrades. Practically everyone at the Statehouse champions early education, yet the actual level of investment falls far short of the talk. Ohio has let need-based college aid fall dramatically, at $180 million for the biennium, or half the amount of six years ago.

State lawmakers failed to fund fully their own school-funding formula. Add $400 million, and they would get close. State parks face a backlog of maintenance projects totaling $500 million. So, yes, there are better ways to deploy the money. The spending on education carries the promise of a higher return on investment in the long run. Budgets, as the old saw goes, are about priorities. For its part, Ohio has much greater needs than another round of income tax cuts.

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