Ohio’s next governor won’t take office for six months, but the state’s mayors and commissioners are already lobbying the next administration for funding. It’s hard not to blame them, considering the deep cuts in Local Government Funds that have come under Gov. John Kasich, and the extra strains the opioid epidemic has put on some city and county budgets.
Both the Ohio Mayors Alliance and the County Commissioners Association recently pitched their wish lists to the two candidates running for governor, Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray.
The mayors group is calling for, among other things, the next governor to provide more state aid to municipalities and strengthen cities’ home-rule powers.
The alliance says cities, collectively, have lost nearly $500 million a year because of reductions in state funding and state tax changes made by Kasich.
Last week, the commissioners association echoed similar concerns in proposing the return of more than $350 million in annual revenue to counties during Kasich’s two terms.
Both groups also say they want to build a better working relationship with the new administration and are urging Ohio’s next governor to adopt various policy recommendations to assist them.
The LGF in each city, township, village and county helps to pay for various types of service from fire and ambulances, public health clinics, parks and recreation, and police.
Besides restoring $25 million in annual cuts to the local government fund, the mayors also propose creating a competitive community reinvestment fund of $100 million over two years to deal with the drug epidemic and foster economic development.
The commissioners’ policy statement said counties are struggling to provide basic government services and some have depleted their financial reserves. To keep up, 30 counties have increased sales taxes since 2007, and 49 counties are now at the maximum county rate of 1.5 percent. Many counties devote 60 percent or more of their budgets to services impacted by the opioid crisis, with some counties’ costs increasing 33 percent for children’s services, jails, coroner services, public defenders and other areas impacted by drugs.
The association is seeking a return of $166 million in annual funding that counties lost when the state-imposed sales tax on Medicaid payments to managed-care organizations ended. It also aims to restore the local-government fund to 3.68 percent of state general-revenue-fund taxes to yield another $145 million a year. The rate is now 1.66 percent.
The proposals have gotten little response from the candidates so far but should get more attention in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election. Cordray’s campaign has suggested he would “reverse cuts to the local-government fund” and work with local officials to “effectively combat the opioid epidemic.” The DeWine camp has outlined ways that he will assist local governments where they need the most help, including fighting the opioid epidemic and improving children’s services.
Cities and counties may never see funding restored to previous levels, but both groups may benefit in other ways if they’re able to convince the next governor to work more closely alongside them.
Local governments have a responsibility to manage their budgets, but the state has a role to play, too.
With Ohio’s rainy day fund now at about $3 billion, 2019 should be the time for a new governor and Legislature to recalculate the local-government funding formula. At the minimum, funding should be brought to a level that allows communities to provide the most essential services to all residents.