So you want to be an Allen County commissioner, Beth Seibert, Dan Beck and Norman Capps.
And you — Tony Wilkerson and Peggy Ehora — you went and got yourself elected to Lima City Council back in November.
Well, welcome to the big time, the not-so-fun stuff of the job.
You know the old saying about things flowing downhill?
Well, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has less than two months to fill a budget deficit that is estimated to be somewhere around $2.4 billion. The state fiscal year runs through June 30, by which point the Ohio Constitution requires a balanced budget. That means thanks to the coronavirus, that doughnut hole former Gov. John Kasich was so proud of getting rid of is now making a comeback. The last two months of business shutdowns have seen state tax revenues take a nosedive.
Getting the house back in order will no doubt mean the state will take away some of the kids’ allowance, in this case that money city governments have come to expect. County governments also will be dealing with less. When shopping malls, retailers and restaurants close, so goes the sales tax revenue they provide. So our new commissioners and council members soon will get to decide whom to short-change when it comes to the many good agencies and programs this area enjoys.
It’s fun for no one.
There are some one-time things that can be done, like tapping into the rainy day fund. That’s typically a short-term solution. DeWine has instituted a hiring freeze and ordered state agencies to cut as much as 20% of their budgets for the remainder of the fiscal year. That too will only go so far.
The state will look at four areas where it spends most of its money: Medicaid, prisons, K-12 education and higher education. Medicaid cuts will be difficult, as enrollment is now climbing with millions out of work. State prisons are already overcrowded. That puts a bull’s-eye on college-level and K-12 education for deeper cuts.
If local officials are thinking of tax increases to replenish their shortages, they should clear their heads of such dreams. It won’t fly with city and county residents already feeling over-taxed.
The same holds true on the state level.
House Speaker Larry Householder is still angry about last year, when the governor vetoed the House-backed changes to the state Medicaid program. Householder told Cincinnati radio station WLW, “I told them, don’t drag your butt back in here a year from now and ask for a tax increase. You had your chance to make some difficult changes in this budget, and you didn’t do that. So don’t ask me for additional revenues.” (By the way, don’t you just love it when a politician refers to state government as “me”?)
Is there any hope out there?
Congress has passed the federal coronavirus relief bill, the CARES Act. It could be used to cover state cuts to K-12 education. However, it comes with strings attached, which are always fun to sort out.
The state can also revert to funny money — deferring payments into the next fiscal year and tapping reserve funds and other one-time sources of money. This will buy time as they hope for the economy to recover.
That may help the state, but local governments are still left holding their hands out.
They too need to start preparing for the worst, being proactive instead of reactive. Budget and job cuts, as well as freezing hiring and wages, need to be put on the table.
Oh yes, once DeWine has this budget balanced, he and state officials will have to get to work on the next one, which runs through June 30, 2021.