By State Representatives Mike Foley and Bob Hagan

Ohio is a great, messy, complicated state. We are conservative and liberal, libertarian and socialist. We likewise have a whole bunch of moderates except for the host of issues on which they swing to the left or right. In the partisan parlance of the day, Ohio is a purple state. In a word, we are normal.

We have some real structural economic problems now, however. Problems we can only solve if we rebalance our politics and take some progressive economic actions.

First and foremost, we must deal with our budget or lack thereof. Since 2005, when Ohio enacted a dramatic tax cut, our economy has been headed for the train wreck where it ended up this year.

While Gov. Strickland should be commended for seeking a moderate solution, his hands are somewhat tied by the legislature in which we serve. Ohio needs a bold, progressive solution. In the past few years, all Ohioans have seen a dramatic reduction in the taxes people and corporations pay. This may seem popular, but these tax cuts have not only wrought enormous, unnecessary challenges; they have failed to produce any of the economic results which led to their original implementation.

The argument for these dramatic tax cuts was that it would stimulate Ohio’s economy; it did not. Rather, Ohio’s economy sank further, well before the current national economic troubles. In fact, were it not for the national crisis, Ohio would be in much bigger trouble than it currently is, thanks to federal “stimulus” funds.

We cannot make up for the harm of the 2005 tax cut policy, but we can stop it from causing further damage. We can bring Ohio back from the edge of greater decline. Rather than following the governor’s modest proposal, we should repeal much of the 2005 income tax cut and restore Ohio’s upper tax levels to those of 2005. The benefits from pursuing this policy are many. Don’t forget, the compromise budget adopted last summer left not only many people unhappy, it left far too many of our fellow citizens hurting even more.

The pain of the cuts enacted just 10 weeks ago is already being felt throughout our state. Among the Ohioans who lost out are our youngest and oldest neighbors and those most in need of help. From the Early Learning Initiative to adult protective services, programs and services geared to enable children to start school well-prepared and to ensure that the oldest among us are not abused have been eliminated and decimated by budget cuts.

Community mental health services were cut by nearly $200 million compared to spending last year. These cuts have occurred at a time of unprecedented need.

We cannot wait any longer for a bold solution. That solution is pretty obvious, it involves simply restoring tax rates for those earning more than $200,000 annually to the level prior to the 2005 cuts and creating a new tax bracket for those earning more than $500,000. Both rates are lower than the top tax rate for several years during the 1980s.

Certainly, those among us earning such high salaries at this time of crisis are willing to contribute just a little bit more, so that all of us can have a better future. One thing we know about Ohioans is that despite our flaws, we care about our state and each other.

Given our crisis, those who make more have more to contribute. They have done well by Ohio. It is not such a bad thing to require those who are doing pretty well right now, to help those who are struggling, by contributing more in taxes to the state.

We need adequate social services; we need good schools; commonsense development patterns; recreation centers and parks; clean drinking water and air; bridge inspectors; meat inspectors; colleges and universities; great transportation networks. The list goes on. But none of this happens without sharing the costs, burdens and opportunities.

We love Ohio. It has contradictions galore and a sense of absurdity that we adore. But we hate that amidst all of our history of innovation and hard work, the portion of us that is selfish has been encouraged and indulged by our state government for the last two decades.

We can extricate some of that selfishness from our tax code. It is past time. Having top income earners paying their fair share would provide Ohio’s bone-dry budget with an additional $1.4 billion just in this budget period. It’s the right thing to do.
Foley is a state representative (D-District 14). Hagan is a state representative (D-District 60).
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Ohio Forum. 10/09