Today, as part of its state budget coverage, the Dispatch has an interactive game that allows you to choose among options for raising revenue and cutting costs. I recommend everyone play around with it:

Can you balance the state budget?

In my attempts, I raised what I thought were a reasonable amount of taxes across the board, did some cuts (exempting prisons and mental health hospitals from closure, for instance), and still came up with a $450 million deficit. Anyone who tells you this is going to be an easy process is lying.

There are a few major flaws in this tool worth noting.

First, there are hundreds of ways that could and should be considered to raise new revenue. Only a dozen or so are listed here and most hit ordinary Ohioans the hardest. Why not consider extending the sales tax to services – just for a start, you could raise $12 million from taxing lobbyists, and eliminate the ridiculous cap on sales taxes paid by the wealthy when they buy shares of private jets. Discussions like these are necessary, and we’ll be revisiting them in the coming months, but they are easy to gloss over in putting together an online budget game. We hope policymakers will do more than play with this game to come up with their budget plans.

Second, the article starts with a $8 billion hole to fill. This number is based on calculations of the amount of one-time money that were used to balance the last state budget. The assumption is, since this was money only available for fiscal years 2010 and 2011, you have to go without it this time around. This is true, but every state budget includes some one-time money. 2012 and 2013 will be no different. And the game doesn’t give you options that are normally employed, such as further restructuring state debt or transferring excess money in certain agency-controlled funds – each could generate $100s of millions.

Lastly, the authors also allow you to raise a $4 billion one-time lump sum by opting to privatize the Ohio Turnpike. What they fail to note and a warning to anyone looking at this option: the Ohio Constitution is not on your side. Revenues derived from our highways must be spent on our highways or on enforcement of highway safety, according to § 12.05a. Unfortunately, neither ODOT or the Highway Patrol receive funding of any significance from the general fund, so an infusion of $4 billion doesn’t take any pressure off the state’s general funds budget, as this calculator game would suggest.

But even noting those flaws, it’s a useful and educational exercise for everyone to better understand the tough decisions ahead. We recommend that John Kasich might want to play around with it (hint to John: despite your promises to “fix” it, the final reduction in the income taxes went into effect yesterday, thanks to your predecessor)

We’ll all need to be watching as this budget is put together, as it is the most significant demonstration of the state’s policy priorities that will occur before the next election. We highly suspect that many of you will disagree with the Republicans on exactly what those priorities will be, so we’ll do our best to highlight those choices before they are final and encourage you to weigh in with your representatives before it’s too late.

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  • Rgtmwlly

    Ted strickland’s decision to eschew his responsibility to deal with this problem during an election year is shameful, and will only make the cuts that will be needed more painful. What a horse’s ass.

  • Go read the article I referenced in yesterday’s post. It explains how the budget process works and the reasons why we’re facing the current problems – two things you obviously don’t understand.

  • Anastasjoy

    Why do you exempt prisons, a cut most of the public approves of, me among them? I’d start by letting all non-violent drug offenders out.

  • Anastasjoy

    Also, ODOT doesn’t receive significant funding from the general fund? Are you sure? I know gas taxes and fees don’t even come close to covering the cost of highways so where does the rest of the money come from?

  • Anonymous

    ODOT receives a tiny amount from the General Fund. $14,081,656 in FY2010 and 2011 which goes into the rail development, airports and transit lines. Here is a quote from the LSC greenbook for FY10-11 (http://www.lsc.state.oh.us/fiscal/greenbooks128/dot.pdf):

    “Less than 1% of the Department?s budget comes from the General Revenue Fund (GRF); the rest of the budget is derived from federal sources, the state motor fuel tax, and bond revenue.”

  • Anonymous

    Just because with current sentencing laws, we are already at around 150% capacity and any further cuts would require closing prisons and double-bunking which I think could lead to disaster. I’d definitely support cuts to prisons if it were attached to sentencing reforms – the Governor included them in his last budget request and the Democratic House took them out, so we’ll see if things are different this time. (btw, I am also budgetwatcher… need to update my disqus profile!)

  • Anonymous

    Interesting note… under the simulator, you can cut taxes, make no spending cuts, and pay for it all with the options at the end and easily balance the budget.

    However, the simulated press stories don’t note that such one-time gimmicks leave a looming deficit two years down the road. Instead you’re haled as a tax cutter while saving the State from spending cuts.

    Oh, wait, that’s PREICSELY what WOULD happen.

  • Anonymous

    Where’s the eliminate the income/estate tax option?

  • Wow, that’s just about enough money to pay for the yearly costs of the 3C rail project that would have spurned $3 billion in development throughout the state.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I fully expect a budget entirely full of gimmicks like selling the lottery, state buildings and the turnpike, and more. Sell it all! Remember, John Kasich was elected with a mandate to “skinny down government”.

  • Rgtmwlly

    Oh I understand. I understand that Ted tried his damnedest to hold off on any unpopular political decisions regarding state revenue or spending until after the election, fearing he might lose. Well, it was exactly that lack of decisive leadership that causes him to lose anyway. And the result was a lost year when something could have been done about our budget shortfall, but instead, nothing was.

    So now the cuts will need to be deeper. The decisions only tougher. The pain more universal. All because we wasted a precious year facing a crisis with a Governor who couldn’t have cared less about leading, and wanted to hide from making tough choices. However you try to slice it or spin it, that is a fact.

    Instead of demonstrating any sort of grasp of the dangers that faced Ohioans, and sticking to his guns, Ted opted to wait, figuring he had enough campaign cash to trash his opponent and trick Ohioans into giving him one more disastrous term. Then the leadership might have come out . . . Maybe. But only then.

    Well, now we get to see what leading, and making the tough decisions is all about. And one thing is for sure – the way we’ve done things until now just doesn’t work, so we’re going to have to blow it up and start all over again.

    Welcome to the new reality.

  • Anonymous

    Ted Strickand cut $2 billion in state spending in the past budget to prepare for this situation. Before that, he had introduced what even the Buckeye Institute acknowledged at the time was the most fiscally conservative budget that anyone in Ohio could remember.

    While the Senate Republicans took political potshots while offering no solution, it was Governor Strickland, time and time again, willing to risk his political capital and make the unpopular choices to get our budget balanced without increasing taxes.

    John Kasich, a leader? Hardly. Where’s Kasich’s plan? Seriously, even you can’t tell me what this guy is going to do beyond platitudes. Even now, John Kasich is promising Ohioans something he knows can’t be delivered. He’s claiming that he can cut taxes, not hurt education, and make our cities better. He can’t do all three.

    If anything, Kasich is offering more of the same. The idea that we can have tax cuts without budgetary pain. It’s what Bob Taft offered Ohioans in 2005. It hasn’t panned out that way.

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