Friday, July 22, 2011

GUEST COLUMN: "Focusing on Communities in the State Budget" by St. Rep. Adams

By Sstate Representative John Adams

When Governor Kasich signed the state operating budget into law on June 30th, hard choices were made that will affect many at the state and local level. When we began this task, Ohio was facing an $8 billion budget deficit caused by loose spending and overreliance on federal one-time stimulus funds for ongoing expenses. The final product bridges this gap through smarter allocation of resources and spending cuts. Most importantly, we still found a way to adequately fund all levels of state government, but in a more efficient and responsible manner.

As the House debated the budget, we wanted to ensure that we closely considered the needs of Ohio’s local governments. The structure of government on this level determines the quality of our communities. The reduction to local governments is 25% each of the next two years. It is important to make sure that local officials had the latitude to make choices instead of simply following mandates from the Statehouse in Columbus. This flexibility is especially crucial given the reforms included in the new budget.

For instance, the budget establishes the Local Government Innovation Fund. This will give grants and loans to schools and local governments, providing these entities with a means to distribute services at a lesser expense by creating shared service programs. In this way, communities will not only have money to pay for necessary services, but also a way to provide them more efficiently.

Specifically, local governments will receive one-time assistance of up to $100,000 each to join a project approved by the Department of Development. Each project can receive up to $500,000. Through this provision, districts will be able to combine efforts, working more economically and saving money. The end result will be more streamlined services.

The budget also secures for each county at least $750,000 or the amount allocated to them in the local government fund in FY ’11. The House accomplished this by adding $45 million to the fund in FY ’12 above the budget's executive version. We wanted to guarantee that each community had enough money to fund the programs and social services that their residents most needed.

To make a smooth adjustment, the budget also includes several other measures with the primary aim of lowering the cost of government. It develops a public notice web site for local governments, considerably cutting the prices related to local government requirements for public notice. The integrity of public notices will remain intact, but the process will be more manageable. In addition to this provision, the budget authorizes port authorities to use new construction reform methods and holds down the cost of government construction with prevailing wage adjustments.

Through this focus on local government in the new budget, our communities will be in a better position going into the next two years. On the state level, we were able to reconfigure our resource allocation so that we could best fund local governments without stepping on their toes. I want each of us to have a say in what goes on in our own neighborhoods and communities. This budget strikes a balance between financially supporting local governments and giving them space to make decisions in their respective communities.