Much of the drama at the Statehouse features Republican lawmakers clashing with John Kasich, their fellow party member in the governor’s office. They have battled, most notably, over the proposed Medicaid expansion and a higher severance tax on oil and gas drilling. The back and forth has been enough to trigger a memory lapse, to forget that Ohio has an opposition party in the shape of the Democrats.
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats performed as an opposition should. They put forward a concrete and practical alternative, one that deserves the attention of Ohioans, if not for every detail then for the sound direction it would give the state.
They would rework the priorities in the proposed state budget plan, shrinking the size of the 7 percent individual income tax cut put forward by the House. They would exclude from the tax cut the top two income brackets, or those households with earnings above $106,105 per year. They would redirect the resulting $508 million for the biennium to school districts and school transportation, using a formula that would drive increased resources to poor and disadvantaged schools.
Ideally, the state would go further in resetting priorities. School districts have been squeezing their budgets the past two years to cope with steep reductions in funding from the state. Districts have frozen salaries, curbed benefits, slashed staff levels and increased class sizes, among many steps to make ends meet. They also have gone to local taxpayers, the trend at odds with the Ohio Supreme Court citing an overreliance on local funding.
Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland-based think tank, has calculated that in two years, districts will be $1.2 billion behind where they would have been if funding had just kept pace with inflation.
Senate Democrats, led in this instance, by Eric Kearney of Cincinnati and Nina Turner of Cleveland, recognize political realities. They leave room for additional tax cuts pushed by Republicans. They simply and rightly ask: Isn’t a smaller tax cut enough, especially in view of the needs of schools, and lawmakers already having reduced income tax rates by 21 percent starting in 2005?
For his part, the governor has proposed an additional 20 percent reduction in tax rates, plus a 50 percent break for small business owners (the latter apparently the preferred course of Senate Republicans who unveil their budget plan next week). Recall that businesses as a whole have enjoyed a substantial tax cut the past seven years. Senate Democrats have countered constructively with the idea of striking a better balance. Ohioans still would have lower tax rates than a decade ago. They also would ease the burden on schools.