Posts Tagged 'Tax Payer money'

Schools Across State Starving in Face of Historically Deep Budget Cuts

As the Ohio House Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education prepares to meet at the Warren County ESC, in Lebanon, State Rep. Matt Lundy highlighted the need to put our kids and communities first as they face financial crisis.

Ohio school districts are projecting huge deficits because of $1.4 billion in cuts to education in the state’s operating budget, which passed along party lines.  Schools in Warren County were cut a total of nearly $27 million for fiscal years 2012-13 when compared to 2011, including more than $4 million from Lebanon City Schools and $9 million from Mason City School. Districts across the state are left to struggle with the best way to prepare children for the future with larger class sizes, fewer music and art programs, costly extra-curricular activities and limited or no busing. 

“Rather than addressing the brewing financial crisis facing communities like Lebanon, where the city schools face a projected deficit of nearly $2 million dollars for fiscal year 2013 and more than $3 million for fiscal year 2014, Republicans have decimated school funding.  Schools across the state struggle to cope with unfunded mandates, large class sizes and few teachers in the classroom,” said Rep. Lundy.

House Bill 30 dismantled education reforms set in place by Democrats taking apart key provisions like all-day kindergarten, and it removed the Evidence Based Model for education, returning us to an unconstitutional funding system that is overly reliant on property taxes, while we wait for Gov. Kasich to introduce his own plan, and hold hearings around the state nearly two years later.

“It’s been 15 years since the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that our school funding system is unconstitutional because it relies too heavily on local property tax,” said State Rep. Matt Lundy. “Today, as schools face tough decisions this reliance is only growing, while we just begin to have hearings nearly two years after dismantling the Evidence Based Model that would have helped to reduce the burden on local property taxpayers.”

35 school districts are preparing to ask citizens to pass levies, increasing their local property taxes, during special elections in August. While school districts across the state are facing a combined school-funding deficit of over $1.79 billion in fiscal year 2014. This is based on a calculation of each school district’s five-year projection of finances, which is required to be submitted to the Ohio Department of Education. Policy Matters Ohio also estimates that school districts in “Fiscal Watch” or “Fiscal Emergency” could spike by 300 percent this year, from 14 to 43.

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Budish: Frack Tax should be Reviewed, Schools shouldn’t be Shortchanged

In response to Gov. John Kasich’s renewed push to increase the severance tax on oil and gas companies, House Democratic Leader Armond Budish released the following statement:

“Gov. Kasich’s proposal to modestly increase the severance tax on oil and gas companies is a step in the right direction.  But we should be protecting local property taxpayers and prioritizing our communities, not passing more tax cuts that disproportionately benefit wealthy Ohioans. 

“Ohio has one of the lowest severance tax rates in the country so reviewing those rates only makes sense as large oil and gas companies attempt to capitalize on Ohio’s natural resources.  On this, I agree with Gov. Kasich and frankly I can’t understand why House Republicans have stood in the way.

“Instead of protecting the oil and gas industry with one of the lowest tax rates in the country, we should be finding ways to prioritize our communities and protect local property taxpayers. The fallout from last year’s budget is just beginning.  In next month’s special election alone, 35 communities will be seeking local property tax increases.

“Furthermore, the impact of this new industry is going to add significant costs for local communities and this proposal does very little to address this. There’s also serious concern about protecting against environmental risk.  As of 2011, Ohio had only 30 field inspectors to inspect 64,481 wells. Adding a few more will help but our overall regulatory capacity is still limited.

“I truly believe that our state is only as strong as our local communities.  Going forward, we must prioritize Ohio communities and protect local property taxpayers.  I agree with Gov. Kasich, we should determine a fair frack tax rate, but we shouldn’t shortchange our schools and local communities along the way.”

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House Dems Urge Caution with Unprecedented Legislative Repeal

Ohio House Democrats held a press conference to urge caution as House Republicans look to move forward with an unprecedented partial legislative repeal (SB 295) of HB 194.   The measures also includes additional language beyond repealing HB 194, which lawmakers contend will make this unprecedented legislative maneuver is ripe for a constitutional challenge.

“This theme is playing out across the country. In the 2008 presidential election, record numbers of young people, lower income people, and minorities voted.  Since then, Republicans have been executing a strategy to make it more difficult for those populations to vote, thereby trying to ensure their success at the ballot box this November – not by winning a clean campaign on the issues, but by gaming the system, creating voter confusion and chaos, and pursuing a set of punitive rules that hurt voters.  It is outrageous, and we will continue to speak out about their dirty tricks and tactics,” said State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D- Kent).

Most recently Reps. Clyde and Gerberry reached out to Speaker Batchelder over the legislative spring break, urging caution with the Republicans’ unprecedented legislative repeal bill of HB 194 through SB 295.  In a letter to Speaker Batchelder they laid out three consensus-building steps on how Democrats can work with the Republican leaders to ensure a smooth election this fall. First, any bill should contain a clean repeal of HB 194, not a partial repeal like SB 295. Second, bi-partisan support and consent of the petition committee would be required. Third, Republicans would have to make a firm public commitment not to make other election law changes at any point before November.  A copy of the letter to the Speaker is attached.

“Time and time again we have given Republicans the opportunity to work with us to improve our elections system, but they refuse and at every turn Republican leaders of this state prove they will stop at nothing to disenfranchise voters,” said State Rep. Ronald V. Gerberry, ranking member of the State Government and Elections Committee (D-Austintown).  I am incredibly disappointed in my colleague’s decision to continue to pursue yet another lawsuit; it is a complete abdication of our duty to the people of this state to use their hard earned tax dollars in an attempt to make their voices silent and their votes unheard.” 

 “A pre-emptive legislative repeal to a law that has been certified for a citizen’s referendum has never occurred in the Ohio General Assembly’s 209-year history.  Pursuing such an unprecedented maneuver with broad partisan opposition will only strengthen a potential constitutional challenge,” said State Rep. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron).  “Furthermore, continuing to pursue lawsuits at the federal and state level on the taxpayer’s dime in an effort to receive a different outcome is simply unacceptable.”

Yesterday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals again ruled against Secretary of State Jon Husted and Hamilton County Republicans, ordering that provisional ballots in the undecided 2010 Hamilton Country Juvenile Court judge’s race be counted.  In response, Senate President Niehaus and Rep. Blessing filed a suit in the Ohio Supreme Court against Secretary Husted in another desperate attempt to throw out registered voters’ provisional ballots.  Using taxpayer dollars to argue against counting eligible voters ballots, often cast due to poll worker error, shows just how out of whack Republicans’ priorities are.

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Relief Fund for Schools and Communities Proposed by House Lawmakers

Ohio House Democratic lawmakers announced a new proposal today to help offset the impacts of last year’s historically deep state budget cuts to schools and local communities.  The Kids & Communities First Fund uses surplus revenue to make up to $400 million available to schools and communities this year, and another $500 million once Gov. John Kasich’s proposed severance tax increase takes effect.  

“The Kids and Communities First Fund will help keep teachers in the classroom, and cops and firefighters on the streets in communities all across Ohio,” said House Minority Leader Armond Budish (D–Beachwood). “Additionally, this fund will help curb the growing need for local tax levies due to state budget cuts and provide relief for local property taxpayers.”

The Kids and Communities First Fund will be offered as an amendment to Gov. Kasich’s Mid-Biennium Review (HB 487).  The fund will make up to $400 million available this year from surplus revenue (currently $265 million), a portion of the Budget Stabilization Fund ($120 million), and $15 million from Gov. Kasich’s proposed severance tax increase.  The fund would be replenished after fiscal year 2013 by increased severance tax revenue.

“It’s been 15 years since the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that our school funding system is unconstitutional because it relies too heavily on local property taxes,” said State Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-Albany).  “Today, instead of finding ways to reduce this over-reliance, the state of Ohio is walking away from that responsibility and leaving the burden of educating our children squarely on the backs of local property taxpayers.”

Lawmakers calculated that districts are facing a combined school-funding deficit of over $1.79 billion in fiscal year 2014.  This is based on a calculation of each school district’s five-year projection of finances, which is required to be submitted to the Ohio Department of Education.  Policy Matters Ohio also estimates that school districts in “Fiscal Watch” or “Fiscal Emergency” could spike by 300 percent this year, from 14 to 43.

“Stories of communities cutting or privatizing critical safety services and in some cases even considering dissolving all together are pouring in from across the state,” said State Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati).  “If we don’t protect our communities, we undercut our economic recovery and hurt working and middle class families.”

Compared to fiscal year 2011, the state budget (HB 153) cut nearly $1.1 billion from communities last year.  Specifically, the Local Government Fund was cut by $463 million; state funding provided to offset previously eliminated business property taxes were cut by $492 million; and state funding provided to offset previously reduced utility property taxes were cut by $135 million.

“Failing to address last year’s deep budget cuts will hurt our schools and make Ohio less economically competitive.” said Rep. John P. Carney (D- Columbus).  “Doing nothing will keep forcing local taxes to go up and put more pressure on middle class Ohioans.” 

According to Matt Mayer, the former head of the conservative think-tank the Buckeye Institute, local property taxes have gone up in Ohio under Gov. Kasich because of state budget cuts.  In a recently published column, Mayer states, “net taxes on Ohioans have gone up under Governor Kasich, making our state even less competitive.”

“Our state is only as strong as our schools and our local communities,” State Rep. Matt Lundy (D- Elyria). “If we do nothing we will hurt our children’s education, weaken safety services in our communities and create even more pressure on local property taxpayers.”

The Kids & Communities First Fund would be available as early as July 2012, when the current fiscal year ends.  It would make up to $400 million available for schools and communities to apply for an emergency relief grant. After fiscal year 2013, the fund would be supported by the severance tax increase as proposed by Gov. Kasich and a portion of that funding would be available to protect local communities that are most affected by hydraulic fracturing though a local impact grant.

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Gov. Kasich’s “Toll road for lease” plan hits bump in the road

The Kasich administration has been moving full speed ahead in privatizing state assets and the most recent target is the Ohio Turnpike, the 241 mile toll road that runs the entire length of the northern end of the state.  The Governor’s attempt at selling the state to private corporations has received no shortage of criticism across the state from lawmakers, citizens and editorial boards.  

Last week, Gov. Kasich’s plan hit a new speed bump.  The Governor had planned to use federal funding in part of his plan to privatize the Turnpike.  However, Ohio’s Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood challenging Kasich’s authority to utilize federal resources to advance his privatization agenda.  After review Secretary LaHood determined that federal resources may not be used for such purposes.

State Representatives along the Turnpike applauded Secretary LaHood’s decision and the work of Ohio’s Democratic congressional delegation.  Ohio House Assistant Minority Leader Matthew A. Szollosi of Toledo said, “The Ohio Turnpike belongs to the people of the State of Ohio, and that should not change simply because Gov. Kasich wants a one-time infusion of cash for use by his administration.   Based on what has happened in Indiana, motorists can expect a significant increase in tolls, maintenance of the turnpike will deteriorate, and toll workers can expect pink-slips.  Privatization of the Ohio Turnpike is a bad idea.”

State Rep. Teresa Fedor also from Toledo had this to say about the Governor’s plan, “Governor Kasich’s scheme to privatize the Turnpike has cost Ohio millions in revoked funds.  Federal Transportation officials said the Kasich administration misused the funds in a reckless effort to privatize the Ohio Turnpike.  If Gov. Kasich succeeds tolls will rise, and traveling commuters, truckers and others who use the Turnpike will essentially pay an un-voted tax increase.  Those who stand to benefit the most are the investment bankers who could make a killing off this scheme.  Gov. Kasich needs to quit putting Wall Street bankers ahead of Ohio voters.”

Then over the weekend the Toledo Blade published another editorial criticizing Gov. Kasich’s privatization of the state.  Excerpts of the editorial follow:

“The rush to cash in on leasing the Ohio Turnpike hit a bump in the road last week. It won’t stop Gov. John Kasich’s administration, but it does keep the issue in the public eye and make it less likely that Ohioans will wake up one morning to find that they no longer control the toll road they paid for.

“Mr. Kasich has made no secret of his desire to privatize the turnpike, along with liquor profits, prisons, and other state assets…

“…In the long run, leasing money-making enterprises will cost the state billions of dollars in revenue that will need to be replaced. In the case of the turnpike, many Ohioans also are concerned that tolls will rise, as many as 1,000 jobs will be lost, and turnpike maintenance will suffer. If that happens, more traffic — especially big trucks — will use parallel secondary roads, increasing maintenance costs and making those roads less safe.

“Last week, several Democratic members of Ohio’s congressional delegation who oppose the turnpike lease plan questioned the use of federal highway funds to explore lease opportunities…

The [Kasich] administration’s initial request said vaguely that a federal grant would be used to study how leasing assets works in other states, without mentioning the Ohio Turnpike at all. It deserved to be turned down as a ham-handed attempt to game the system.

“If the governor continues to believe leasing the turnpike is a good idea, let him come up with a transparent source of funding to study the issue — although preferably not by putting his hands in the pockets of local governments again. Commission a full, nonpartisan examination at least as comprehensive as a preliminary study released last March by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, which concluded that leasing the turnpike had little benefit and a lot of “likely negative outcomes.”

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Read the full editorial here.

Rep. Hagan Calls for Alcohol and Drug Testing of Elected Officials and JobsOhio Board Members

State Representative Robert F. Hagan announced he will soon introduce legislation requiring drug and alcohol testing for statewide elected officials, legislators, and JobsOhio board members.

“The premise of this bill is pretty straight forward. You have individuals entrusted by the public to perform legal functions on behalf of the citizens who pay us with tax dollars,” said Rep. Hagan.  “I don’t buy the assertion by Republican lawmakers that we need to test welfare recipients for drug and alcohol use, but that elected officials, who receive much more in annual tax dollar salary than those on public assistance, simply are exempt from any such testing.”

Rep. Hagan’s proposed legislation highlights the need for accountability and transparency in the way public officials are entrusted to govern while spending taxpayer dollars, or receiving them for pensions, healthcare, and salary.

“It is hypocritical to demand that the average Ohioan and working poor should be held to a higher standard than the political elite in this state. Substance abuse is substance abuse, and receiving tax dollars is receiving tax dollars. It shouldn’t matter who you are.”

The proposal would require drug testing of state legislators, Supreme Court justices, statewide elected officials, and JobsOhio board members. The bill will also provide that the testing be paid for by the public official, and that consequences be imposed for those found to possess un-prescribed pharmaceuticals, illicit drugs, and/or alcohol in their body at the time of testing. Consequences for positive screenings include outright removal from public office- in the case of JobsOhio board members, and required treatment, possible impeachment, and the ability to recall all other elected officials who test positive.

Legislation similar to Rep. Hagan’s proposal has been enacted in Missouri. 

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MUST READ: “Columbus Dispatch” State budget’s targeted tax breaks draw criticism

Policy Matters Ohio recently released a budget analysis showing Gov. Kasich’s budget gives hundreds of millions in tax breaks to the wealthy and special interest, while slashing millions in education and public safety funds. Excerpts of the Columbus Dispatch article by Darrel Rowland follow:

“At the same time that lawmakers were making wide-ranging cuts in the state budget enacted this month, they gave more than $400 million in tax breaks, a public policy group says in a new analysis.

“’Some of the kind of tax breaks we are generating do not have any job requirements attached to them,’ said Zach Schiller, research director of Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal-leaning group based in Cleveland.

“’We’ve got every state trying to do this type of thing, and it’s a zero-sum game…’

“The beneficiaries of these new or extended incentives approved by legislators and Gov. John Kasich range from horse tracks to private operators of the state’s development efforts and Ohio Turnpike to gift cards and customer-loyalty programs to buildings for captive deer.

“’We comprehensively overhauled our business tax system in 2005 under the theory we were cutting large numbers of special breaks and abatements because we would have a tax system that would have lower rates and attract business.

“’Are we in effect saying that’s failed?’ Schiller said.

“Kasich defended his budget approach as “absolutely correct.”

“House Democratic leader Armond Budish of Beachwood agreed with the Policy Matters assessment.

“’It is inexcusable that Ohio’s recently passed budget cuts millions from education, police and fire protection, mental-health services and long-term care for seniors, while giving huge tax cuts to the wealthiest among us and to special interests,’ Budish said.

‘”The effects of the hundreds of millions in lost revenue will be catastrophic, and the burden of fixing it will be left for the next General Assembly, while communities across the state pay the price.’

“The Senate’s version of a state budget called for a panel to study the state’s tax breaks, but that provision was stripped out in the final deal with the House and governor’s office.

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Read the full article here.


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