Ohio#8217;s Controlling Board plays vital role

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Every two years, the Ohio General Assembly is charged with managing billions in valuable taxpayer dollars as part of the state budget process, and it is our duty to ensure this money is handled responsibly and invested in areas that will grow our economy and provide the greatest benefit to Ohio families and our local communities.

To do this, we must research the state’s fiscal needs thoroughly, engage in discussion with the public and other interested parties, and most importantly, maintain transparency and accountability throughout the process, monitoring how these dollars are used long after the budget bill has passed.

For instance, the legislature may allocate $8 million in the budget for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to fund various projects and support the agency’s day-to-day operations. While this expenditure may receive considerable public hearings and survive a vote of the House and Senate, to achieve full accountability, it is imperative that a system of checks and balances be in place to follow how this money is being spent over the biennium. Ohio has established just such a system through the state Controlling Board.

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As part of my committee assignments for the 127th General Assembly, Senate President Bill Harris appointed me to serve on the Controlling Board, which consists of members from the House and Senate, as well as the President of the Board appointed by the Governor. The Board reviews hundreds of state contracts and agency spending requests each year, and it is our job to make sure those requests and contracts meet legislative intent. It is important to note that more than 90 percent of the requests we hear do not draw questions because agencies have done an adequate job in conveying the information and goal of each proposal. However, in the rare case that concerns arise, each member has the ability to hold an item they find questionable.

During the most recent meeting of the Controlling Board, a request was made by the Secretary of State’s Office to approve the use of a Pew Charitable Trusts grant to fund a voter registration pilot project in 45 of Ohio’s 88 counties, which included the areas surrounding Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. The project would study the effectiveness of providing voter registration information in moving packets provided by the U.S. Postal Service to those who change their home address.

Those in favor of the proposal argued that these counties would work well because they contain a vast majority of the state’s population, have readily-available postal technology and provide significant funding to Ohio’s voter registration effort. However, I opposed the request because I believe that all of Ohio’s counties should be included, or none at all. Left out of the equation is much of rural Ohio, and important metropolitan areas like Toledo, Dayton and Youngstown. I wonder what would happen if the aforementioned areas were included and Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati were left out.

Not to mention, this pilot program is only in place during the 2008 presidential election year. With the issues Ohio has had with our elections system recently, as well as those who still believe in the conspiracy theory that the 2004 election was rigged, I feel that we should not give off the perception that one geographical area has a voter registration advantage over the other.

Unfortunately, in the end, the request was passed, with my dissenting vote.

Sometimes the Controlling Board process can be like banging your head against a wall, but it is important in the effort to maintain accountability and transparency in the way state funds are used, while working to ensure that these hard-earned taxpayer dollars are invested in ways that will further the success of our state and benefit the greatest number of Ohioans.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District.