Randy Cole may have the toughest sales job in Ohio.
As one of Gov. John Kasich’s top policy advisers, Cole travels the state trying to convince local government officials to find more efficient ways to operate, whether by sharing services, consolidating operations or even merging.
Cole, according to The Columbus Dispatch, has given 105 speeches to more than 8,700 government and school officials in almost every county during the past three years.
While some school districts have responded by working with other districts to save money, and municipalities have found ways to provide services more efficiently and/or cost-effectively, government isn’t exactly shrinking.
Cole points out there are 49 types of local-government entities funded by taxpayers. There are 6,550 local-government agencies, overseen by 20,230 elected officials, with 506,000 employees.
This year, those agencies will receive more than $50 billion: $35 billion from local taxes and fees, $13.6 billion from the state, and $2.2 billion from the federal government.
Making government leaner has long been a talking point, but the conversation didn’t really heat up until Kasich slashed local-government aid by 34 percent and other funding from utility taxes nearly in half. Later, an estate tax that funneled 80 percent of its revenue to local governments was taken away.
To adjust, Kasich advised governments and schools to take advantage of a change that makes it easier for political subdivisions to share with one another, and to look internally for ways to become more efficient.
Some have, and are.
A report titled “Beyond Boundaries,” released in June 2012, contained statistics and 10 recommendations for areas in which governments and schools can share services and save money. It showed governments and schools are already saving about $1 billion annually through collaborative projects.
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost tracks many of the success stories and ideas at www.skinnyohio.org.
It’s easy to understand why change is coming so slowly. It’s human nature to want to keep something around that works and, when it comes to government, it’s often the nearest form of it that is most responsive. In county, township and municipal government, a taxpayer is more likely to know the people who serve and who to call when they need something.
But at the same time we complain about excesses in Washington or Columbus, we shouldn’t continue to excuse the redundancies that take place in our backyards.
Certainly, if someone was to start Ohio government anew, it wouldn’t look like it does today.
Cole’s pep talks about shrinking government and reducing costs shouldn’t be met with deaf ears and closed minds. Local governments shouldn’t wait until the next financial crisis to join the conversation.
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