Spending cap would cost Ohio in services
Amendment analysis shows parks, schools might be hit hard
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
If a proposed constitutional amendment to limit state spending had been in place during the past decade, Ohio government would have spent at least $18.7 billion less, an amount roughly equivalent to shutting down state government for a year.
A new government analysis shows that lawmakers would have had to make hard decisions about whether to cut aid to schools, close prisons or parks, eliminate in-home care for the elderly or reduce other services to balance the state budget under the strictures of the amendment targeted for the Ohio ballot in November.
"If this proposal goes forward — good, bad or indifferent — state government cannot continue to be for citizens what it has been over the last 10 years," said Scott Borgemenke, chief of staff for majority Ohio House Republicans.
As lawmakers prepare to debate placing the amendment on the ballot — an action requiring three-fifths majority support from both the House and Senate — Borgemenke directed the House budget staff to analyze what the amendment would have meant for Ohio if it had been in place the past decade, encompassing nine fiscal years.
"We’re trying to see whether we should be for or against this based on the data," Borgemenke said. "It’s a preliminary, back-ofthe-napkin sketch to show our members what the numbers look like. Then you have to take the numbers and apply them to public policy."
The amendment, championed by Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell and fellow Republican conservatives in the General Assembly, has a good chance of passing in the absence of an alternative ballot proposal, because the concept of reducing the size of government has a visceral appeal to voters, Borgemenke said.
If the legislature declines to put it on the ballot, Blackwell and his anti-tax group, Citizens for Tax Reform, have vowed to secure enough signatures from registered voters to qualify it for the Nov. 8 election. Neither Blackwell nor Rep. Linda Reidelbach, R-Columbus, House sponsor of a bill to put the amendment before voters, could be reached for comment last night.
The amendment would prohibit state spending from increasing above the combined rate of inflation and population growth unless three-fifths of the legislature and a majority of voters approve the higher spending. The spending restrictions also would apply to city, village and township governments.
The House budget staff, basing its analysis solely on state general revenue spending — excluding money from the federal government and subtracting local property-tax relief — determined that Ohio government would have nearly $3.5 billion less to spend in the current fiscal year alone if the amendment were in place.
Decreasing spending by that amount would alter how the state serves virtually every one of its 11 million residents. Among possible scenarios assembled by Borgemenke’s staff for cutting $3.5 billion a year:
• Reduce education spending by $2.5 billion. Per-pupil aid would fall from $5,169 to $3,550, ranking Ohio with Alabama and Mississippi among the nation’s lowest.
• Eliminate half of state spending for local governments, saving $352 million.
• Cut 80 percent of funding for local libraries, saving $380 million.
• Eliminate all state spending for Passport, the $103 million program of in-home care for the elderly.
• Close all state parks, saving $128 million.
Other scenarios could include closing state prisons or state facilities for the mentally retarded, or wiping out all $2.48 billion spent on higher education.
"Clearly what this shows is that all the services currently provided by the state could not be kept in place," Borgemenke said. "It’s like everything else — you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I think taxpayers would realize what’s gone under this."
Through the past nine fiscal years, the state has spent $135 billion from its general revenue fund. The proposed constitutional cap on spending would have meant $18.7 billion less for the general revenue fund during that time, or about $14 out of every $100 spent. This fiscal year, the state is expected to spend about $17.9 billion from the fund when federal money and local property tax relief are excluded.
The reduction in state spending growth required by the amendment likely would transfer more responsibility to fund services from the state to local governments, which would be bound by the same restrictions, Borgemenke said.
Required by federal mandates to help fund spiraling costs of Medicaid, the health-insurance program for the poor that consumes about half of Ohio’s annual spending, the state would have to stretch its reduced revenues if the constitutional amendment were approved, Borgemenke said.
"We will become an insurer and an incarcerator," he said. "We’ll pay for Medicaid and put people in prison. Outside of that, we’re not going to be able to do much else."