The Ohio Future Foundation hosted a wide-ranging Facebook live interview that reviewed the March 15 budget biennial 2020-2021 proposed by Governor DeWine.
Ohio Future Foundation Chairman Jim Renacci was joined by Republican State Representative Jena Powell of Ohio’s 80th district and Senior Fellow Greg Lawson of the Buckeye Institute, a free-market think tank based in Ohio. Lawson is the author of the just-released Piglet Book, which analyzes state budgets for waste and abuse. They hoped to discuss the “good, the bad, and the pork” of the recently released budget.
Renacci began the discussion by assessing the overall state of the Ohio economy and how this new budget was factoring in for it. He noted that there were “big indications that Ohio’s economy was slowing down, but the budget outlined projected record revenues” for the state over the next two years. Lawson concurred, stating:
revenues are coming in well at the moment, the state is assuming that this is going to continue through the next year and some slowdown in the second fiscal year….However, there’s a lot of reason for trepidation.
The main issue, he noted was a significant divide between the economic numbers produced by the Governor’s office and the Legislature’s. He advised that any budget moving forward should remember to “take care and move with caution.” As Ohio is constitutionally mandated to maintain a balanced budget, Lawson cautioned that a nightmare scenario may occur, should the passed budget not compensate for the chance the economy does slow down. He noted, “all legislators want to be promise makers and promise keepers…If they’re wrong, they’ll be promise breakers,” describing the current budget review as operating with “a scalpel.” Should this scenario come to pass, the state will have to make severe cuts that would be more akin operating while “using a meat cleaver…alot more painful for everyone.”
The forum then expanded into a discussion of the various specific initiatives in the bill. A consistent point of complication was that this budget was reflective of the many promises DeWine made during his campaign, specifically the provisions for children. While Rep. Powell agreed in principle to supporting children, she disagreed with the Governor’s approach. She emphasized that a commitment to protecting nuclear families and removing onerous tax burdens and regulations from everyday Ohioans would be significantly more effective than the various initiatives proposed by DeWine. She noted that the strategy should be to “improve the economy so that the families have a lesser burden,” Lawson concurred with this analysis.
An alarming moment came when Renacci relayed a question by a viewer as to “what portion of the budget is being consumed by Medicaid and entitlements.” Lawson noted that currently:
Medicad is by far and away…the largest amount of the current budget. Probably about 30% of the total budget. All [state and federal] funds together is the best way to looks at it, it’s actually 38% over the course of two fiscal years. A huge chunk of the budget is just for Medicaid.
He also noted that an additional 8% is spent on other entitlements, “All total, 46-47% of the overall budget is in just those two areas…Even as enrollment declines, we’ve never had a recession in the Medicaid bureau….If we don’t get a grip on Medicaid, Ohio is never going to have a sustainable budget.”
A further point of frustration was that all cabinet salaries were also getting a raise in the current budget. Lawson called this “Not the wisest course under the present circumstances.”
Rep Powell was asked specifically how the current “welfare state” should be addressed. She asserted that;
indivudals are born with the internal feeling that ‘I want to achieve the American Dream.’ Welfare is an inhibitor and a crutch for many people. It was indended to be a great program, but now it holds people back from achieveming that dream.
She believes that the solution is an emphasis on workforce development and training the next generation to recognize that “there is beauty in hard work.”
The forum concluded with Rep. Powell outlining several “workforce development bills,” her group was currently drafting. She emphasized that a “better tax code” was one of the key bills she was developing to this end. Lawson ended by noting some of the more absurd programs currently in the proposal, including $30 million for the arts that the state was subsidizing a program aimed at getting more people to drink “Ohio Wine.”
The budget is currently under consideration by the Ohio House of Representatives.
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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to [email protected].