September 2010 News from Policy Matters Ohio: Standards, Seuss, Schools and Scams

- September 15, 2010

Higher Standards – In May 2008, on Governor Strickland’s initiative, the legislature passed aggressive clean energy standards that require Ohio utilities to generate 12.5% of electricity from renewable sources and to enact programs that reduce energy consumption by 22% over the next 15 years. Policy makers of both parties agreed the bill would have economic and job creation benefits for Ohio. This report assesses Senate Bill 221’s effects on economic growth, emissions reductions, energy independence and savings, and finds that the bill is already working, and that if utilities reach annual benchmarks, Ohio will see jobs created, less pollution and, in the long run, money saved.

Labor Day Grinch – Our findings in the State of Working Ohio 2010 earned author Amy Hanauer the label Labor Day Grinch in a column by Bill Hershey of the Dayton Daily News. Though we’ve always liked the Lorax better, we accept the label with pride. The report finds the highest long-term unemployment since record-keeping began more than 60 years ago, black employment levels that have sunk to about 50% of the working age population, and median wages today that are below levels from thirty years ago. Still, unemployment is not as high as it was in the early 1980s recession. More federal stimulus and a strong public jobs program are needed to restore the Labor Day spirit.

Modernize or Lose –  Ohio now has less than one year to modernize its unemployment compensation program or it will forfeit $176.3 million in federal funds. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act set aside $7 billion for states that take steps to bring their unemployment compensation systems into the 21st century. Early reforms that we’d put in place secured us the first $88.2 million, but further modernization is needed to ensure we get the full $265.5 million we have coming. To get the rest, we must do two of four updates, which include allowing seekers of part-time work to qualify and extending longer benefits to those in approved training programs. Learn more here.

Authorized Abuse – Policy Matters reviewed management agreements, audits, websites, board lists and other charter school documents, using criteria from the pro-charter National Association of Charter School Authorizers, to see whether the 150 or so Ohio charter schools that are run by management organizations are conforming to these basic criteria. Our report finds violations of the law, such as a management company owner’s relative serving on charter school boards. We also uncover widespread practices that undermine independence, accountability and good governance, such as board members who are also school staff, board members for an Ohio school who live in Colorado, overlapping boards, and more. If we don’t want Ohio’s charter system to continue to be seen nationally as an example of how NOT to do charters, we need better laws, more responsible sponsor behavior, and stronger enforcement of existing law. Read today’s Beacon Journal piece about our report here!

Tax Tussle – In a report to a legislative panel that is seeking solutions to Ohio’s looming budget problems, Policy Matters reviewed the 2005 changes to Ohio’s tax system and the $7 billion in annual tax revenue foregone because of the credits, exemptions and deductions known as “tax expenditures”. The 2005 tax cuts did not improve Ohio’s economic performance as promised, increased the share of taxes paid by middle- and low-income taxpayers, and deprived the state of needed resources for public services. We conclude that Ohio should revitalize the income tax, in particular for high earners, restore revenue from business taxes and vigorously attack exemptions, credits and deductions that riddle the tax code.

Stop Scams, Raise Standards – Our newest staffer, Policy Liaison Hannah Halbert, jumped into the fray, testifying before the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, urging higher standards for job creation and job retention tax credits. These better standards were one of many changes recommended in a legislatively mandated study on incentives and were consistent with the Department of Developments own guidelines and the legislative intent of the bill redefining these credits. Veteran Researcher David Rothstein also testified on scams being marketed to those who need loan modifications. Rothstein described this predatory marketing as similar to peddling of unaffordable and wealth-stripping sub-prime housing loans to Ohio families over the past decade. Although most such scams go unreported, Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray has logged more than 400 complaints related to loan modification scams since 2009.

Saving, not Stripping Wealth – The IRS and U.S. Department of the Treasury are doing more to protect families and build wealth. The IRS eliminated the debt indicator, which had allowed paid preparers to know ahead of time whether a tax filer was certain to get his or her full refund. Knowing that made predatory marketing of tax refund anticipation loans a no-risk proposition for such lenders. Treasury will be piloting a new savings program that helps tax filers get refunds directly into a debit card and savings account, making it easier for families to start saving. Policy Matters and our allies at the National Consumer Law Center and the National Community Tax Coalition, have long made these common sense recommendations.

Bragging Rights – We mentioned it before, but we’ll say it again – we’re honored this week to accept the Organization Innovation Award from the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations, doled out to a group that demonstrates creativity, teamwork, boundary-breaking and excellence. Join us today for tasty food, a great party and a terrific talk by Robert Egger, founder and president of DC Central Kitchens, a vocal advocate for a more innovative and effective non-profit sector.

Breakfast with Bubbleman – We’re holding a breakfast talk with Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and one of the nation’s top progressive economists. Among the first to warn about the housing bubble, Baker has developed a reputation for challenging conventional wisdom and doing so with foresight, passion and incredible knowledge. He’ll give a group of Policy Matters’ friends his thoughts about what’s wrong with our economy and how to fix it. Read more from Dean in his columns or in his latest book, False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy, available here

Refreshing challenge – Policy Matters and a team of other progressive organizations are competing to win big money in September’s Pepsi Refresh Everything online fundraising contest. Of the more than 1,000 groups competing, right now Policy Matters and several of its partners are positioned to win! But the competition gets toughest in the final weeks of the month (that’s now). Join the more than 24,000 people who get daily reminders to vote for the Progressive Slate.

That’s all!
The Policy Matters Team 

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