Ohioans continue to yawn and ignore what is happening around them as they repeatedly surrender their rights to know how taxpayer money is being spent.
The latest examples are found in two incidents:
â?˘ JobsOhio money being spent on sports projects in Dayton and Toledo.
â?˘ The just-passed budget provision allowing more secrecy in local meetings.
Most Ohioans will tell you they did not expect $15,000 of JobsOhio funds to be used to help a Dayton-area development agency underwrite a 2012 NCAA basketball game attended by President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Gov. John Kasich.
Nor did they figure $35,000 in public money would be used for the Toledo Mud Hens to develop a branding campaign.
Yet, should they be surprised that public money was quietly used in such a fashion? Thatâ??s precisely what happens when residents give up their right to know how their tax money is being spent, something they seem all too willing any time an elected official recites those magical words, â??Secrecy for the sake of economic development.â?ť
It happened in a major way with the passage of Ohioâ??s budget. Not surprisingly, it came again with the backing of John Kasich, who failed to exercise his line-item veto.
House Bill 59, with the blessing of the Senate, granted expansive, new secrecy to local governments when going into executive session to discuss economic development projects. Local governments argued they needed the exemptions because neighboring states had more lenient open meeting laws. They also argued the increased secrecy would lead to savings and operational efficiency.
They failed to make a compelling case with either argument.
The fact is that under Ohioâ??s current law, a public body can already go into executive session to discuss real estate transactions, share trade secrets, review development plans and to share any information that state or federal law requires be kept confidential. These existing exemptions provide an appropriate balance between a businessâ??s need for discretion and the publicâ??s right to know what their government is doing.
If that wasnâ??t the case, then how does one explain the fact that neighboring states such as Indiana already lag behind Ohio in most key economic indicators? Ohio is leading the nation in job growth, and its unemployment rate has steadily declined.
As for savings, quite the opposite is likely.
The new exemption could increase the competition between local government entities for business expansion and relocation projects. At the same time, it makes it easier for businesses to simply move from one local jurisdiction to another, thus setting up more instances of local governments simply luring businesses away from each other with tax incentives that actually reduce overall revenue.
The new budget language was in part a failure on Senate President Keith Faberâ??s part. He ultimately allowed this language to be added at the last minute in the Senate, well past the point of public comment or testimony, an ironic detail when we are talking about a major new exemption to Ohioâ??s Sunshine Laws.
If this was really a necessity for local governments, then the language should have been debated separately from the budget, where all interested parties could have had a thorough dialogue about open meetings in the state of Ohio.
We are all aware of the prices that can be paid with excessive government secrecy, and proponents of this language made no case why additional secrecy was needed.
It is an unproven assumption that there should be a correlation between local government secrecy and job growth. No such correlation exists.
EDITORIAL: Ohioans yawn as â??economic developmentâ?? goes unchecked