Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Gov. Strickland's Budget

Say what you will about our Governor. He lacks neither vision nor courage, and right now, the economic situation in our State desperately needs both. In his State of the State address, and in the SFY 2010-2011 budget, he is trying to satisfy three mutually exclusive priorities: maintain existing services as much as possible, prepare Ohio's educational system to become a world leader within eight years, and still not increase taxes in a state that has the 7th highest tax burden in the United States.

Even on a conceptual level, this is hard to do. Most of the criticism I have heard of the budget basically states that Ohio needs to put off one of the three. Republicans are saying that the budget is unsustainable because it depends on one-time revenue. And they're right, it is not a wise practice to begin ongoing programs on the basis of a temporary revenue stream.

The State employee unions are naturally upset that part of the Governor's balancing strategy is to expect State employees to cut their own salaries up to 6%. As a State employee, I'm not wild about the idea myself, but I'd rather be paid something than be put out of work; or see massive layoffs of my fellow State employees.

Finally, to increase taxes only makes Ohio even less attractive to new business than it is now. Raising taxes will only lengthen the recession our State has been experiencing. Likewise, a massive upgrading of our schools into a seamless "P-16" (pre-school through college) system is an essential component of any strategy that will keep Ohio in line for future growth. We are paying now for our past disregard of education, especially higher education.

The choices in this budget are tough ones. We should be thankful for a Governor who can have the vision to make them; and we should demand the same of our legislators.


Anonymous said...

As a state employee too, I understand the need for some level of concession. I expect it, and I'm planning for it.

The state should also undertake a review of middle management levels. There are some sections in my agency that have 1 supervisor for 1-4 staff, and other sections where, for example, there is a manager, two supervisors under the manager, and 1-4 staff per supervisor. The levels could be trimmed easily through buyouts, attrition, and mandatory retirements.

For the record, I haven't talked to a single union employee in my office who doesn't understand the need for some level of concession.

7th most populous state... 7th highest tax burden. I wonder if there is a correlation? Of course, part of Ohio's problem with taxes is the incredible level of sprawl (that's auto-dependent to boot). NE Ohio, as a whole (~14 counties) has the same population as it did in 1949, yet we have sprawled over a huge area since then. This means more miles of roads, sewers, water lines, and sidewalks per capita. It means the gutting of urban school district tax bases and creating the need for more school buildings, personnel and administrators in suburban/exurban areas. This ultimately means total school costs per capita are higher. It means more fire&rescue and police department buildings,vehicles and overhead per capita.

If we had pursued more sensible development patterns rather than mandating sprawl through zoning codes and the way transportation dollars are allocated, we would be getting the same services for less money or more services for our higher tax burden.

The governor is not in an easy position, but you're right, he needs more vision, leadership, and the courage to convey the fact that we need to consider unpleasant options.

Ben said...

I'd take a state job for 6% less than someone is making right now if they want to switch with me.