Local political and business leaders are hoping the new administration of incoming Gov. Mike DeWine can help the region by focusing on boosting the local government fund, making pro-business moves and developing a skilled workforce.
Many local officials say they hope restoring the local government fund — a tax revenue sharing fund started in 1935 with the state sales tax — is a focus for DeWine.
“It’s just been awful the last several years with the way they’ve dried up all the local government funds,” said Fairfield Mayor Steve Miller. “(Local communities) have had to either raise taxes or cut services.”
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Outgoing Gov. John Kasich cut the local government fund in half in his first biennium budget in order to boost the state’s rainy day fund from 89 cents. Today, it iss nearly $2.7 billion.
Miller said Kasich is leaving office “with a huge rainy day fund where everybody else is scavaging.”
Ross Twp. Administrator Bob Bass if the township’s police levy failed last November, trustees might have been forced to shutter the department. They would have held $250,000 to $300,000 in the police fund by year’s end but then would have “no tax money coming in.”
“I think that’s a pretty dire picture,” Bass said. “We’ve lost a good portion of our general fund to the tax cuts that Gov. Kasich put in. It’s just not like the old days when the general fund can handle everything.”
Fairfield Twp. Trustee Shannon Hartkemeyer said cutting the local government fund hurt townships more than other local governments.
“I’d like to see more attention to (funding) for local roads, and that could also be accomplished through strengthening the local government fund,” she said.
DeWine, 72, will be the state’s 64th governor when he takes the oath of office at 12:01 a.m. on Monday at his home in Cedarville. He will be the only Ohioan to be elected lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, attorney general and governor.
DeWine is inheriting a state jobless rate of 4.6 percent — nearly a full percent above the national rate (3.7 percent) — a $2.7 billion rainy day fund, and a AA+ credit rating.
But there are still serious economic problems facing the state, including a per capita personal income 9 percent below the national average and a large number of people who dropped out of the labor market.
There are significant social issues, too, such as an infant mortality rate of 7.4 deaths per 1,000 live births that is among the highest in the nation; an opiate addiction crisis that on average sees 14 Ohioans die every day; an increased number of suicides increased by 37.4 percent between 2007 and 2017; and a climbing firearms death rate that was 12.9 per 100,000 in 2016 (up from 9.6 in 2005).
Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon believes DeWine will do right by local governments.
“The last time we met he asked, ‘What’s the one message you want me to take back (to Columbus)?’ I said, ‘Really, just leave us alone,’” Dixon said. “If we need something, we’ll ask for it.”
One thing Dixon said he hopes the DeWine administration will stop are unfunded mandates.
“Don’t give us something we don’t want, or we don’t need, and let us have more local control,” he said. “It’s not just one big thing; it’s a bunch of little things. They send requirements that they want more reporting, they want more requirements, they want more oversight, they want another division set up over here in ABC department reporting to some other department. All that takes personnel and more resouces, and no money comes with it.”
Cheryl Subler, managing director of policy at the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, said the 88 counties in Ohio have lost $351.4 million in Medicaid managed care sales tax, local government funding and tangible personal property tax. Butler County is out $3.2 million in Medicaid sales tax and $5.77 million in local government funds annually.
Subler said the CCAO is encouraged help for counties might be on the way.
“I think the incoming administration has been prioritizing and saying how they want to prioritize kids and families,” Subler said. “That’s fabulous, that’s great news. And then there’s also some who would like to work with local governments to address mandated services and unfunded mandates, to take some pressure off of their general funds.”
DeWine and Lt. Gov.-elect Jon Husted, 51, have signaled they’ll make kids and workers top priorities in their administration. They have pledged to increase state funding for child protective services, address the opioid addiction crisis, work closely with local governments and improve worker training programs.
Husted will be the administration’s point man on government efficiency projects and workforce development initiatives designed to bridge the gap between worker skills and demands of open jobs.
“I’m in daily conversations with major Ohio employers who say, ‘Look the nature of our work is changing. We need to upscale our workforce,’” Husted said.
Ohio needs to be more nimble with worker re-training, he said.
“This is not just an Ohio problem,” he said. “This is an America challenge. It’s a global challenge. And the issue is which communities and which states get it right – they’ll be the ones that prosper. The ones that don’t will get left behind.”
Ohio Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., said he plans to focus on pro-business legislation and his goal “is to make Ohio the most business-friendly state in the nation.” He hopes DeWine will “attack” the four pillars of Lang’s business-first House caucus, which are tax simplification, reducing the cost of state government, workforce development and regulatory reforms.
“I hope to see us pass laws that allow businesses to come to Ohio and make more money,” said Lang, a former West Chester Twp. trustee. “We made West Chester the most business-friendly community in the state of Ohio, and as a result our business and citizens have flourished and prospered. When you put business first, the residents prosper, the school districts prosper. Everybody benefits as a result of it.”
Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan said improving workforce development will drive additional opportunities for jobs.
“The fact is we have a lot of jobs available, but it’s really getting people skilled up to get those jobs or getting them connected with employers,” he said. And if there are more people in the labor force, “it benefits them, benefits the city, benefits the state and benefits the employers.
Another challenge, Mulligan said, is infrastructure.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that maybe there will be some portion of the local government fund restored to support local infrastructure needs,” he said.
West Chester Twp. Trustee Mark Welch believes DeWine’s recent appointment of Jack Marchbanks as the Ohio Department of Transportation director will benefit Southwest Ohio. Welch said the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the area conduit for federal funds for road improvements, “has a wonderful working relationship” with Marchbanks.
“We expect that with that relationship that we’ll streamline the process of improvements … that was a great thing Gov. DeWine did for us here,” Welch said.
And like Dixon, Mulligan said the state government understands local government knows what’s best for local government.
“Certainly there are some statewide solutions that work well across the state, but so much is localized — that’s where the action happens — but if they can stay out of our way and help the cities drive economic growth, we can be good partners together,” Mulligan said.
Ohio Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, said she will “look forward” to work with DeWine “in many issues near and dear to my heart.” That includes economic development, education and infrastructure.
“Needless to say I want to help the governor and the (Ohio) Senate so we all can work hand in hand to lower taxes, bring jobs to our area and see an even bigger revitalization in our area,” she said. “The governor and I spoke a great deal early in the campaign season about how to make the school safety issue a priority, and I hope we can find answers together with all the branches of government.”
The leaders of Butler County’s two political parties both want the administration to push to raise the state’s economy.
“(DeWine and Husted) both know how to make an economy work with less government and smart growth,” said Butler County Republican Party Executive Director Todd Hall. “They are real leaders who connect with people and promote businesses and communities working together. Look for solid job growth, a focus on technological advancement, educational opportunities that mirror current and future career trends, and open communications with area governments to promote the sharing of ideas and information.”
Butler County Democratic Party Chairman Brian Hester wants to see the administration focus on the state’s roots: farming.
“Farming is our largest source of exports in Ohio, so I’d like to see him push the federal government to do more to help Butler County soybean farmers taking it on the chin during this trade stalemate with China,” he said. “In general, we hope he keeps his commitments to labor.”
He also wants to see the DeWine administration address college affordability, restore state funding for local governments and schools, and expand access to affordable child care and paid leave for working families.
One of DeWine’s first big challenges will be proposing a two-year state budget to the General Assembly by March 15. The spending plan must be adopted by June 30 by both chambers.
Staff writers Laura Bischoff, Jeremy P. Kelley and Denise Callahan contributed to this story