The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Akron Chamber, Canton Regional Chamber, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, Columbus Chamber, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Regional Chamber Youngstown & Warren, the Toledo Chamber of Commerce, and the Dayton Chamber of Commerce today unveiled their “Redesigning Ohio” plan.  A full copy of which is attached to the bottom of  this post.

But in the end, the biggest takeaway is this: not even the Ohio Chamber of Commerce can create a report that plays to Kasich’s fiction that Ohio’s projected budget deficit can be cured by cuts in spending alone.

The report, billed as a rebuilding Ohio’s government into a 21st Century model, is really mostly nothing more than a repacking of the same old conservative ideology.

Privatize the prisons (and hope this time it actually works!)

Yes, the plan talks about reforming prison.  However, when it talks about not sending fourth and fifth-degree felons, the report does so naively.  The reality is that under existing Ohio law, there is a presumption against imprisonment for such offenses, and a preference for community-based corrections and probation and other sentencing alternatives.  The problem is what happens when the individuals fail to do what’s expected of them is that they are eventually sent to prison over probation violations.  It is incredibly rare to see a person convicted of a fifth or fourth-degree felony be sent to prison unless they already have a track record of not doing well on felony probation. 

As someone who does some criminal representation, I’m not entirely sure I see what this report would do differently unless it’s willing to go as far as to essentially remove the option of prison incarceration entirely.  Although the report doesn’t actually say they’re going that far, that’s what they’d almost have to do to reach the goal of closing three prisons in Ohio.  At least, that’s how most of the media is presenting their prison reforms.

On page 42, you learn that one of its “savings” recommendation is for the State to do a “[c]ost and results-based analysis regarding the sale or lease of public prisons and other necessary assets.  In other words, “privatizing” some existing prisons.  That, according to the report’s authors will only save the State 5-10% what it costs to operate those facilities now.

However, the supposed savings of private prisons has been questioned based on evidence that during the Taft Administration, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections seemed to, as a matter of policy, selectively chose which inmates were sent to private prisons in order to make such prisons seem much more cost-effective than they really were.  This report by Policy Matters Ohio details Ohio’s failed experiments with private prisons earlier this decade.

Raise taxes!

This report is a prime example of how, if you pick your words carefully enough, you can advocate for tax hikes without virtually anyone noticing.  So far, none almost none of the media (Update: Jim Heath @ ONN reported that the Chamber did “put potential tax increases on the table.”  I stand corrected) have noted that today the Ohio Chamber of Commerce called for higher taxes in order to reform our State government and reduce the deficit.  But that’s precisely what they did.

On page 46, the Chambers advocate implementing means testing for all property tax rollbacks, including the Homestead Exemption, saving the State nearly half a billion during the next biennium budget if implemented.

The other major taxing area the Chamber says needs serious consideration is the $7.2 BILLION in estimated revenues the State loses in tax expenditures a year in tax expenditures (special tax credits, deductions, etc.)  This would put the Chambers, seemingly, in line with left-leaning Center for Community Solutions, which also advocated the same thing back in June.   But guess which tax expenditures the Chamber doesn’t want the State to consider eliminating?  Yep, the ones their members mostly receive.

But, it still sounds like we’ve got a winner right?  Yeah, we would except Governor-elect Kasich ran afoul of the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) when it had to rebuff him and said that removing tax expenditures constitutes a tax increase and thus, would violate the ATR’s tax pledge Kasich and Speaker-designate Batchelder had signed during the campaign this year. 

Yep, on an issue in which the right-of-center Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the left-of-center Center for Community Solutions both agree is a critical area for Ohio’s fiscal reform, we still can’t do it because it might upset some Grover Norquist special-interest group out of Washington, D.C.

This is what John Kasich calls “leadership.”

Charter Schools have worked out so well; let’s try Charter agencies!

Yeah, really the headline says it all.

The Ohio Chamber picked a really bad time and a poor Administration to suggest Ohioans could trust would operate fairly and more efficiently without requiring State agencies to comply with basic civil services rules and regulations.

Kasich already wants to gut the public unions of their bargaining power.  Now, the Ohio Chamber flanks them with calling for weakening civil service protections as well.  This while Kasich bemoans transparency and ethics in governments.  This will not end well.

Pubic pensions:  Employees pay, more get less under consolidated pensions.

Thomas Charles, Kasich’s appointee for Public Safety, already draws a pension from the Highway Patrol Retirement System, which is Ohio’s smallest pension fund.  This makes Charles already a double-dipper.

The good news is that if the Chamber has its way, Charles would see his pension consolidated along with all of the other pensions (or alternative into one of three), in order to save on administrative costs.   One has to wonder, though, if the people under these pensions, like Charles, is willing to consider consolidation, especially when some pension funds have been managed better than others.

As for “double dipping,” Charles need not worry.  Although the report calls for the end of “double dipping,”  the report concedes the practice can be “limited to extraordinary, high-need situations as defined by statutorily-defined criteria.”   I’m willing to bet a Republican-controlled General Assembly would draft it so anyone in Kasich’s Cabinet would be exempt from a ban on “double dipping.”  Especially since most of his Cabinet has already been people who will be “double dipping” when they start working for the State again.

The report also calls for the employees to contribute a large share of their retirement benefits than they do now… and give them less benefits, like eliminating subsidizes for retirees’ health insurance.

These are just some opening thoughts on a fifty-page report.  While some of the admissions are refreshing, such as a call for some form of criminal justice reform, some of the prescriptions such as massive privatization, particularly of prisons makes the “cure” worse than the problem.

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