Thursday, March 19, 2009

Increased Revenue Needed in State Budget


By Dianna King

There were sighs of relief from our elected officials when it became apparent that Ohio would receive Federal Stimulus Dollars. Much of this relief is because $5 billion of these dollars would be used to fill considerable holes in our state budget due to the current economy and poor decisions made in the past.

However, despite these additional dollars, the budget proposed by the governor does not do nearly enough to protect low-income Ohioans. It leaves in place the tax cuts approved in 2005 that primarily benefit the affluent and corporate Ohio, cuts that have contributed heavily to the lack of sufficient revenue in our general fund to adequately subsidize our current health and human services needs.

As welcome and needed as the stimulus dollars are, they do not provide sufficient revenue to restore the many cuts in health and human services programs experienced over the years. Even with the stimulus dollars, there are insufficient funds in this budget to prevent further cuts to critical programs such as senior community services, which provide meals, companionship and support services for our elderly, and the kinship care program which assists grandparents and others who are caring for young relatives in their own homes.

We remain unable to provide even minimal funding for adult protective services, which responds to elderly abuse reports, and continue to force those parents with earnings below 90 percent of the federal poverty limit to miss out on needed health care services. Our food pantries continue to have to beg for the means to feed the hungry.

There are other programs that cry out for additional dollars that would enable them to better respond to the daily needs of the less fortunate. This includes our free clinics, our federally qualified health centers, Ohio Works First and the senior assisted living PASSPORT Program.

The stimulus money gives the false illusion that Ohio’s tax system is not in need of fixing. It is entirely appropriate for the federal government to aid the states with the stimulus program; aid which will keep people working and services in place. However, according to the Strickland administration, the state will lose more than $2 billion a year in revenue when the 2005 tax overhaul is fully implemented in the next fiscal year. This is money the state cannot afford to lose on a long-term basis.

It is not that we do not know what to do, but that we choose not to do it. We could choose to reverse these tax cuts and restore them to their levels of 4 years ago, which would enable us to bring back much needed revenue. Then, along with the stimulus dollars, we could restore a real safety net across Ohio, allowing the money to benefit our needy.

The 21 percent reduction in the income tax and business tax changes coupled with the elimination of the corporate income tax were originally made with the belief that the dollars saved would be used to stimulate our economy and raise everyone’s standard of living. As we look around us today, we must admit that this plan has failed.

The rationale against reversing these tax cuts is that it is not politically expedient to increase taxes at this time. The reality is that the poor cannot continue to wait. Feeding the hungry, providing for the sick, and protecting our elderly, cannot wait for a better political climate. The time for change is now.

It is time to make hard decisions that can, and will, dramatically impact the lives of those in need in our community for the better. Until then, the numbers of those in need will continue to grow. We must admit that the actions of past administrations have failed, and that we need to take bold steps to restore the necessary level of funding for those programs which struggle today or have already fallen by the wayside.
King is the chair of Advocates for Budget Legislation Equality.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Ohio Forum. 3/09