Coalition sending SOS when it comes to budget

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

They're sending out an SOS, in hopes of spurring grass roots opposition to Governor Taft's proposed tax reform plan and proposed state budget.

Representatives of the group Campaign to Stop Ohio's Slide (SOS) met with local leaders Wednesday and outlined their plan to defeat Senate Bill 1, the revenue arm of the proposed state budget, as well as Taft's plan to overhaul the state's tax structure.

The coalition includes the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development, Ohio Head Start, the Ohio State Troopers Association and other groups.

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The organization's communication's director, Dale Butland, said he wants Ohioans to understand what a negative impact the tax reform plan would have on their pocketbooks and contact their state senators and express their opposition to it.

Butland said the tax reform plan is meant to correct tax inequities and encourage new business while balancing the state's budget. But he said what it really does is shift more of the state's tax burden to middle and lower income people and balance the state's budget at the expense of local governments by cutting state funding to them.

"Our coalition agrees that the state is falling behind in the creation of jobs, but this is not the answer," Butland said. "This bill would actually only accelerate that slide. It favors the rich and would cut not just money for health care but aid to local governments."

Butland said the governor's tax reform package favors the wealthy. He said while those making $200,000 a year would see a tax cut of approximately $6,000, those in the lowest socioeconomic category, making $20,000 to $40,000 a year, would see a state income tax cut of $166, but would pay more for such things as electricity, cigarettes and alcohol all of which are subject to proposed tax hikes.

Rutland also charged that the reform plan would reduce taxes paid by corporations and shift more of the its tax burden onto the backs of Buckeye families.

Local leaders Wednesday expressed concern about what impact Senate Bill 1 would have on their government's budgets. Under the senate plan, state funding to libraries would be cut by 5 percent, township budgets by 10 percent and county and municipal budgets by 20 percent during 2006.

Some school districts, including Fairland Local Schools, would also see state funding cuts.

"What we're saying is that, in hard economic times like these, what we need are real answers and not just gimmicks. They may be cutting state taxes but if it is passed, local governments will either have to raise taxes or cut services," Butland said. "It's a shell game."

Butland said many local governments would have to slash services to counter the effects of the state funding cuts and the most likely services to take the hit would be public safety - police and fire service, therefore making a bad situation worse.

Ironton Mayor John Elam said the 20-percent cut in Local Government Fund monies amounts to 15 percent of the city's general fund monies. A 20-percent cut would amount to approximately $100,000. For a city already struggling to make ends meet, a $100,000 cut would be a devastating blow.

"We're already outspending revenues by $300,000 to $500,000 a year. With another $100,000 cut, I feel like we're going to be compromising the welfare of our citizens," Elam said.

I realize the state is having a difficult time with its budget as is every other public entity in the state. It's a difficult time for all of us. But the city has no way to raise sales taxes."

Lawrence County Commissioner George Patterson said a 20-percent state funding cut would amount to more than a $250,000 taken out of the county's general fund - money the county needs just to provide basic services. He suggested state lawmakers find another way of balancing their budget than just slashing LGF allotments.

"The state should leave the half-percent sales tax increase alone. They're talking about getting rid of it," Patterson said.

Both Patterson and Butland said Republican state legislators face tremendous pressure from the governor and others within the GOP to tow the party line or risk losing crucial campaign contributions. Pressure from taxpaying voters would be the only thing to counteract such pressure to pass the reform plan.

"There is no question senators are subjected to tremendous pressure or risk losing campaign contributions," Butland said. "If enough people call them, they can go to the leadership (of the party) and say 'I can't do this, I've got people in my district saying don't do it.' But people have got to call and put pressure on their state senators."

Butland suggested citizens call either State Sen. Tom Niehaus' office at 513- 553- 6569 or State Sen. John Carey's office at 740- 384-6604.

Butland said SOS is a non-partisan group, but right now the GOP is the majority party in Columbus and it is their tax reform plan under discussion.

"The senate bill is flawed and should not be passed," Butland said. "We need to tell state senators to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan."