Once again, term limits will take their toll on the institutional memory of the Ohio legislature. The Ohio House will lose 17 of its 99 members this year, five due to term limits. In the Senate, two veterans left at the end of the year, one due to term limits.
Turnover has been higher in the past. What bears attention is the steady erosion in the ranks of experienced lawmakers. Term limits also have eroded the willingness of legislators to look beyond the short term. Once elected, they begin planning their next political job, lending greater influence to lobbyists, special interests and the governor.
Plenty of heavy lifting lies ahead. This year, legislators must pass a new, two-year state budget. They likely will deal with school funding, one of the most complex issues in state government, and taxes, especially Gov. John Kasich’s plans for a severance tax and lower income taxes. In short, experience matters, along with knowledge and the skill that comes with doing the job.
Consider the makeup of just about any effective work force. It involves a mix of skills and talents, veterans and new blood, those alert to how things work well, others eager to try the new. Why, then, narrow the options for voters?
One thing Ohio voters failed to realize when they approved term limits in 1992 is the natural rate of turnover in any legislative body, members retiring to pursue other interests or forced out due to scandal, redistricting or defeat at the polls.
Ending or altering term limits must be a high priority for a special legislative commission studying amendments to the state constitution.