In August 21, 2009, the Columbus Dispatch reported that the Strickland Administration had balanced the State’s budget by “raiding” what are called “rotary” funds that provide assistance for the blind and organ transplants.  Buried in the story was that the State budget contained statutory authorization to allow such transfers.  Omitted entirely until later coverage was the fact that this was a very common practice that prior Administrations had done with no controversy.

Of course, the anti-Strickland right pounced and none more quickly than Jon Keeling at Third Base Politics.  Keeling, who eventually was quietly put on the Ohio Republican Party’s payroll to do anti-Strickland social media, including the ORP’s anti-Strickland website, was hired by the Kasich Administration as Kasich’s deputy press secretary.

What did Keeling write about the practice of rotary fund raids?

at least this headline came out the same day as Ohio’s unemployment numbers and on a Friday, thereby avoiding a full week of media focus on your ineptitude.

Rerouting donations for the blind and organ donations to help cover the mess of a budget you put together? Seriously?

Keeling then suggest that Strickland should fire one of his Cabinet officials over it.

As Matt Naugle at Right Ohio was busy putting up photoshopped images of Strickland kicking a blind person, Keeling continued to blast Strickland over the issue of rotary funds:

In a follow-up to the killer story last week about Strickland taking cash donated to the blind and for organ donation, the Dispatch reports that the Governor’s Administration has finally given back the money it "raided".

Raiding the funds was necessary to avoid tax increases? Really? That’s your excuse?

Alright, fine. Since you ended up returning the money, I look forward to hearing what taxes you want raised.

So, let’s recap what Keeling has said about rotary fund raids:  it’s an unnecessary budget trick designed to hide an Administration’s budget ineptitude that should lead to a Cabinet-level firing, right?  Remember this, it becomes important later…

The whole story was enough to get Senate wallflower Shannon Jones to get involved:

“While Ohio governors have traditionally enjoyed broad authority to ensure the state budget remains balanced, this administration’s willingness to dip into charitable donations meant to help Ohioans in need is troubling and a complete irresponsible use of the discretion it’s been given. . .  I never imagined the governor would do such a thing.” [Source: Dayton Daily News, Aug. 21, 2009]

(Yes, that was a release issued the same day as the first Dispatch story broke.)

Yes, Jones said she cannot imagine a Governor would do something the legislature specifically authorized the Governor to do in the State’s budget.

It gets better.

Even after the Strickland Administration returned the funds back the charities, Shannon Jones introduced SB 185 to ban the practice.  The bill passed by the State Senate unanimously on January 27, 2010, but saw no action in the House.  The bill was co-sponsored by Tom Niehaus, who is now the President of the Senate.

This was the conservative reaction to a couple of million being temporarily taken out of these funds (as authorized by the legislature in the budget) and then returned.

Enter John Kasich’s budget.  Kasich proudly proclaims that his budget is devoid of any smoke and mirrors (so long as you don’t count the billions in one-time privatization money and the shifting the State’s deficit onto the public employees and local governments.)  Cleveland Plain Dealer conservative columnist Kevin  O’Brien rushed to declare it an “honest budget.”

And that brings us to last week’s press briefing by Office of Budget & Management Tim Keen.  Keen was being asked all sorts of questions like what happened to the supposed $8 billion deficit and how much of the budget is propped up by “one-time” money created by the Administration’s privatization/securitization schemes.

Keen listed the roughly billion in one-time money (most of it coming from “debt restructuring”—i.e. refinancing).  One of the items he listed was “rotary raid authority.”  In other words, authority to raid the very rotary funds Shannon Jones and Jon Keeling threw such a fit when they learned that roughly $2 million had been taken out to keep the State’s budget in balance.

Except Kasich’s budget calls for authority to raid the funds $30 million… each year.  Will Shannon Jones reintroduce SB 185 and will the Senate unanimously pass it again in response?  Does John Kasich’s deputy press secretary’s past comments indicate that he believes that Tim Keen should be fired and Kasich has shown inept leadership on the State budget?

Stay tuned…

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