With the support of Democratic officials from around the state, Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is launching a website called ProtectMyOhio.com to organize efforts to restore local government funding cut during Republican Gov. John Kasich’s time in office.
During a phone conference March 14, Sittenfeld described how state funding cuts have forced cities and counties to cut services. The conference included Dayton Commissioner and mayoral candidate Nan Whaley, Columbus Councilman Zach Klein and Toledo Councilman and mayoral candidate Joe McNamara.
“What we’re really trying to do today is speak up and sound the alarm about the governor’s ongoing raid on the Local Government Fund,” Sittenfeld said. “Over the last four years, the governor has taken away $3 billion in local government funding. This year alone, municipalities across Ohio are going to receive nearly $1 billion less than they previously would have.”
He added, “This is the exact same money that cities, villages and townships used to keep cops in the street, staff our fire departments, fix the potholes and some of the other basic services that citizens rightly expect and the local governments are the ones responsible for delivering.”
Kasich’s office did not return CityBeat’s phone calls for this story. In the past, the Kasich administration has argued the cuts were necessary. When previously asked about cuts to education and other state funding, Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesperson, told CityBeat in September 2012, “The reality is we walked into an $8 billion budget deficit. … We had to fix that.”
But the 2014-2015 budget is not under the fiscal pressures Kasich experienced when he took office, and the governor is pursuing $1.4 billion in tax cuts over the next three years, which he argues will help spur small businesses around the state. During the phone conference, local officials said the revenue going to tax cuts would be better used to reverse local government funding cuts carried out during Kasich’s term as governor — cuts that have also been worth $1.4 billion, according to Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning policy research organization.
Sittenfeld says the cuts have left Cincinnati with $12 million less per year.
“That is the difference between us having our first police recruit class in nearly six years versus not having it,” he said. “It’s the difference between enduring dangerous fire engine brownouts versus not having to do so.”
Klein, who represented Columbus in the call, said the cuts have taken nearly $30 million from his city, which he said is enough money to help renovate nearly all the city’s recreation centers, parks and pools.
“No one is spared,” Klein said. “Everyone is getting cut across the state, and every neighborhood — no matter if you’re in a small village or in a large city like Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo or Dayton — (is) at some level feeling the effects of the cuts, whether it’s actual cuts in services or what could be investments in neighborhoods.”
Klein said the cuts, which have been carried out by a Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature, contradict values espoused by national Republicans. At the federal level, Republicans typically argue that states should be given more say in running programs like Medicaid, but Ohio Republicans don’t seem to share an interest in passing money down to more local governments, according to Klein.
Some state officials have previously argued that it’s not the state’s responsibility to take care of local governments, but Sittenfeld says it’s unfair to not give money back to the cities: “Cincinnati is a major economic engine for the entire state. We’re sending a lot of money to Columbus, so I think it’s fair to say we would like some of that money back. John Kasich doesn’t have to fill the potholes, and John Kasich doesn’t have to put a cop on the street.”
Whaley, who represented Dayton in the call, said, “There’s a county perspective on this as well. The counties would certainly say that the unfunded mandates that the state legislature brings down daily are covered by those local government funds. While (state officials) keep on making rules for the counties to administer services and make those efforts, it’s pretty disingenuous to say that (county officials) don’t get a share of the income.”
A Policy Matters report found local government funding has been reduced by nearly half during Kasich’s time as governor. Local government funding dropped from nearly $3 billion in the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years — the years budgeted by former Gov. Ted Strickland — to about $2.2 billion in the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years — the first two years budgeted by Kasich. The governor’s most recent budget proposal would ensure the continuation of the downward slide, with local government funding dropping down to slightly more than $1.5 billion in the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, according to the report.
Policy Matters concluded new revenue from the state’s casinos and an expanded sales tax would not be enough to outweigh cuts in the Local Government Fund, utility tax reimbursements, tangible personal property reimbursements and the estate tax.
By itself, the estate tax, which was phased out at the beginning of 2013, would have provided $625.3 million to local governments in the 2014-2015 budget, but the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature and Kasich repealed it in 2011.
Cincinnati had structural deficit problems before Kasich took office, but local officials argue the state’s cut have made matters worse. When presenting his 2013 budget proposal, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the state funding reductions cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in revenues for the year.
Sittenfeld’s website is currently gathering petition signatures to restore local government funding, which will be sent to Kasich and members of the Ohio legislature.
Republicans and Democrats have also criticized Kasich’s latest budget proposal for expanding Medicaid and pushing tax cuts and education funding plans that benefit the wealthy. The proposal requires legislative approval to become law. ©