10 things the legislature did in 2011 toward strengthening Ohio

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1. Restored structural balance to our state's budget (HB 153)  

The state operating budget is usually the most far reaching policy action each session of the general assembly. The two-year budget enacted in June is unusually comprehensive, despite other major bills also enacted.

Since my primary assignment this session is as chairman of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee I managed the budget bill in the House and in final negotiations in the conference committee with the Ohio Senate and the Kasich administration.

When our state lost more than 22 percent of our state tax revenues in just two years, the last budget used about $8.4 Billion in one-time funding sources, much of it temporary federal stimulus dollars, to fill the gap. This made it urgent that we develop a responsible path to bring spending in line with revenues.

The new budget, HB 153, fills this gap with a structurally sustainable plan that relies on spending reductions for both state and local service providers, along with modestly recovering state tax revenues. It does so without increasing tax rates. In fact, it retains the lowering of all state income tax rates by 4.2 percent that was delayed for two years, but that had already gone into effect on New Years Day, just before the legislature convened for the new two-year session.

These prudent actions led to Ohio being one of only two states whose finance rating was upgraded soon after budget enactment.

The budget plan interacts with many of the other topics. It will come up repeatedly as I continue touching on these issues.    

Because most of the tax-supported state budget is transfered into our local communities, it has required that the local programs share in the budget trimming. 

We're talking about schools, nursing homes, hospitals, several local government revenue sharing programs, and our state-supported colleges and universities.

 2. Focused on more sensible regulation of our job providing private sector (SB 2) 

When state government rules are proposed, the regulatory benefit will be weighed against any negative impact on Ohio's business environment as a result of enacting SB 2. This will be done in a coordinated fashion within the administration, with legislative oversight through the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.

3. Revitalized Ohio's economic development strategies (HB 1) 

State government's role in helping to develop Ohio's economic position has been under re-examination and is changing.

HB 1, which creates a non-profit economic development enterprise and actions in the budget to lease the state's liquor enterprise revenue stream to the economic development enterprise are moving to streamline, energize and better fund and connect Ohio's economic development functions.

This is actually a similar model to the one Wayne County has used successfully for decades. We have a county non-profit organization that is the lead for helping grow our business sectors. It receives funding from both public and private sources.  

4. Promoted more effective and accountable approaches to delivering state and local government services: Local Government Innovation Program (HB 153) 

I've been appointed to a new 15 member council being formed to guide a new Local Government Innovation Program, which I worked to include in the operating budget. It will promote more innovations that lower the cost of delivering services through grants and loans to local governments seeking to improve their efficiency.

A series of of other actions were also taken to promote more efficient service delivery. For example, the budget enacted  authorization for any government entity to contract with any other government entity to deliver services as along as they stay within their arena of authority. With the exception of home rule cities, it is surprising how often legal opinions hold back cooperative ventures by questioning whether there is clear authority for government agencies to work jointly to provide services.  

5. Expanded performance audits to improve government services (SB 4) 

SB 4 expands the use of performance audits that are aimed at achieving more efficient, cost-effective delivery of services. 

6. Reformed our criminal justice system by sentencing more non-violent felons to community sanctions, rather than to state prisons (HB 86)

Several years of legislative work yielded enactment of HB 86 , a major shift in how various non-violent felons are sentenced. We discovered that about 40% of our state adult prison population involves these type of felons who typically are in prison for less than one year and frequently come out as hardened criminals.

Instead, the approach will now more often involve penalties and controls delivered outside of prison. This is expected to be a budget saving approach, with better prospects for restitution and rehabilitation. 

 7.Targeted prescription drug abuse (HB 93)

Another bill, HB 93, enacted earlier this year targets a small number of doctors and pharmacies that are contributing to widespread addictions to prescription drugs. This is epidemic statewide, but especially in some areas of southern Ohio. 

8. Encouraged more college students to return to Ohio with in-state tuition rates (HB 153)

Ohioans who graduate from high school in Ohio and leave our state for whatever reason, will now be able to come back home to attend state colleges and universities without having to pay much higher out-of-state tuition rates.

9. Moved to keeping more retirees in Ohio: Repeal the estate tax in 2013 (HB 153)

Ohio's death tax, imposed on estates is being repealed effective January 1, 2013. Most states have already repealed this tax. Many Ohioans have left because of this tax. Family businesses are often threatened by it as well. There will be a revenue impact, especially by some local governments, that will begin to be felt in about two years. 

10.Laid groundwork to get a better handle on Medicaid programs that pay for delivering health care services to many citizens with few financial resources (HB 153)

A series of aggressive efforts are set forth in the new budget that aim to better coordinate, consolidate and control costs in Ohio's fragmented Medicaid programs that pay for health care in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and at home for under-resourced persons who qualify.