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Opportunities needed for all of Ohio

I value both Ohio’s cities and rural communities, and I support efforts that work to make our entire state more prosperous, whether it is Cleveland or Cadmus.

But there is definitely a growing urban bias and move toward political correctness at the Statehouse and from other policy leaders across Ohio that I do not share.

On Feb. 22, I sat on a panel in Columbus with State Representative Mike Foley (D-Cleveland) and other community leaders.

We were asked to discuss the findings of a report called Restoring Prosperity: Transforming Ohio’s Communities for the Next Economy, which was compiled by the Greater Ohio Policy Center and the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.

The main thrust of the report is that for Ohio to achieve economic success in the future, we must invest in our metropolitan areas.

I assume I was chosen to participate on the panel as the rural guy. The organizers of the event said they welcomed criticism and disagreement, and I expressed several concerns with their recommendations during our discussion.

One part of the report I do agree with and think should be pursued further is the idea that we need to focus more of our state’s education resources on learning in the classroom.

This is contrary to Governor Strickland’s education plan, which would force many local school districts in Ohio to hire new administrative staff, social workers and school nurses. Our schools are being asked to do too much in many instances outside of their core job of educating students.

The Restoring Prosperity report also calls for downsizing the number of school districts and government entities in Ohio.

I understand the logic of this proposal, but I think the state should lead by example first.

In the past, when state leaders have encouraged schools and neighboring communities to share resources and find ways to operate more efficiently, we have had trouble reaching these goals because we have not successfully driven the collaboration of local municipalities and school districts from Columbus.

We may be able to give them tools that will help facilitate such action, but the decisions have to be made by local communities.

The Greater Ohio Policy Center and the Brookings Institution’s recommendations for restoring prosperity in Ohio were influenced in part by studies conducted by the Ohio Department of Development, the Ohio Board of Regents and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Of particular concern to me is the ODOT study, which was completed by the 21st Century Transportation Priorities Task Force, a 62-member panel that was commissioned by the Governor in 2008 to develop a plan for Ohio’s transportation future. Despite its size, the task force was totally devoid of representation from southern Ohio.

Former State Senator Joy Padgett and I lodged a written protest at the time, but it was ignored.

Instead, members of the committee came to me after the report was finished and asked for my support. I told them that their recommendations would hold no weight with me because of the intentional omission of input from our region.

My message to those who compiled the Restoring Prosperity report is that state leaders should be pursuing economic opportunities wherever they might be instead of working with a bias toward urban development. For example, directing resources to support the development of the nuclear power plant and uranium enrichment facility in Piketon could have a transformative effect on Ohio’s economy.

We also cannot forget about agriculture, which is Ohio’s number one industry. It should also be treated as a priority.

To truly restore prosperity in Ohio, we must take advantage of all our state has to offer. We cannot ignore opportunities in our rural communities in order to direct an even greater share of the state’s investments to urban areas.

While nice streets and amenities are attractive, Ohio’s real economic engine is our workforce and diverse natural resources.

Finally, I disagree with the Restoring Prosperity report’s bias toward solar and wind energy. I certainly support the development and use of these energy sources and their potential growth in Ohio. But it is a serious mistake to ignore the role of coal in generating Ohio’s electricity. Coal produces well over 80 percent of our state’s power.

While solar and wind energy technologies are important, it is unrealistic to think that they will make up more than a minor part of Ohio’s energy portfolio. Ohio’s economic prosperity depends on the availability of reliable, reasonably-priced electricity, so coal production must be a part of our future. This includes partnering with the federal government to develop innovative ways to utilize coal as efficiently and cleanly as possible.

We must also stand together as a state to tell President Obama and our leaders in Congress that the cap and trade policy currently being considered in Washington would be a debilitating blow to our economy.

The groups behind the Restoring Prosperity report asked for my opinion. I think it is good that these thoughts, which have been harbored by many of our state’s leaders, are debated in the open. As this discussion moves forward, I will continue to do all I can to ensure that southern Ohio and other rural areas of the state are part of the vision for restoring prosperity in Ohio.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.