On Plunderbund, our focus is usually centered around current events or breaking news in Ohio politics. But John Kasich’s monotonous lectures about how he has saved Ohio by balancing the state budget got me to thinking about the past. Each time he is quoted by the media after a rant in which he brags about his budgetary prowess, it is very common to find someone commenting about Ohio’s Constitutional requirement to have a balanced budget. As a result, Kasich’s boasting about the miracle of his balanced budget falls flat. The Constitutional requirement also means that Governor Strickland, the frequent object of Republican criticism, must have also had not only one, but two balanced budgets during his stint as Governor. And as we are often reminded by Ohio’s Republican politicians, Ohio suffered severe job losses under Strickland and, presumably, his two budgets.
What’s the importance of a Governor’s budget? During Kasich’s year-end review he proudly pointed out that one of his successes was balancing the budget without raising taxes while maintaining safety net benefits for the poor. Kasich and state Republicans have also credited their budgetary decisions for the incremental job growth in 2011.
If Strickland also balanced his two budgets, and if our economy tanked in spite of such miraculous developments, it might be important to revisit those budgets. As the familiar saying goes:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
In 2007, Governor Ted Strickland took office and was paired with a General Assembly that had a Republican majority in the House and Senate, so it was reasonable to expect some compromise on his first budget. Reports from that time report a level of compromise that is simply unheard of merely 5 years later.
Ohio made the deadline and adopted a budget before the end of the fiscal year that has all sides congratulating themselves on the cooperative process that resulted in all but one state legislator approving of the result.
How was Ohio able to accomplish this feat—especially considering the state has a new Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled General Assembly?
While much of the result undoubtedly rests with the personalities of the state’s executive and legislative leadership—and a healthy respect for the legislative branch of government that former Congressman Ted Strickland brought to the State House—a great deal also has to do with the fact that Ohio’s newly-elected governor chose not to advance major new spending initiatives that would cost taxpayer dollars and, instead, opted for a continuation of the several major policy direction changes that his predecessor, Bob Taft, left as his legacy.
In the case of Democratic Governor Ted Strickland, replacing disgraced Governor Bob Taft, he chose not to antagonize the legislature by promoting additional state spending on new and innovative programs and, instead, took a much more conservative course of requesting the lowest increase in state spending in more than 50 years.
While the legislature did make some rather significant modifications to Strickland’s initial budget proposal (more on that below), the final votes on this budget are astounding:
- The final version of the Democratic Governor’s budget bill passed in the House 96-1, garnering “yes” votes from 52 members Republican majority and all 46 of the Democratic Party members.
- In the heavily Republican Senate (21 R, 12 D) the budget bill receive a unanimous 33-0 vote in favor of passage.
- Overall, the final tally was 129-1 with Republicans providing 73 “yes” votes and the other 58 coming from the undivided Democratic legislators.
After Strickland signed the bill, The Columbus Dispatch even provided a favorable review that also included a long list of positive outcomes.
The governor’s signature, less than 10 hours before the start of the new fiscal year, ended what many Statehouse observers called a remarkably smooth budget process.
In fact, the list of supporters of the 2007 budget bill includes some familiar names (2011 activity):
- Kevin Bacon (Chairman of the Senate Insurance Commerce and Labor Committee, Senate Bill 5 supporter)
- Kevin Dewine (Chairman of the Ohio Republican Party)
- Matt Huffman (House Bill 136 sponsor – school voucher)
- Shannon Jones (Senate Bill 5 creator)
- Josh Mandel (State Treasurer, U.S. Senate wannabe)
- Bill Seitz, House Majority Whip (Republican inhabiting Kasich’s doghouse)
- Chris Widener (Senate Finance Committee chair)
- Jon Husted, Speaker of the House (Ohio Secretary of State)
- Ron Amstutz (Chairman of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee)
- Steve Stivers (U.S. House of Representatives)
- Keith Faber (Senate Bill 5/Issue 2 spokesperson)
- William Batchelder (Speaker of the House; staunch Kasich supporter)
- Tom Niehaus (Ohio Senate President, staunch Kasich supporter)
An impressive list of Ohio Republicans, to be sure. As an interesting factoid, 29 of the Republicans who voted to pass John Kasich’s budget also voted in favor of Strickland’s 2007 budget.
Apparently, Republicans deserve most of the credit for the final version of the 2007 budget attributed to Governor Strickland. As we mentioned earlier, the Republican majority in the legislature enacted some significant amendments that changed Strickland’s initial budget. An analysis of the changes by The Center for Community Solutions from July 15, 2007:
The enacted version of H.B. 119 [budget bill] shows a marked difference in legislative spending priorities compared to those proposed by the governor. Table 1 compares the governor’s original GRF budget request for FY 2008 with the final spending plan approved by the legislature, highlighting 11 state agencies whose combined appropriations represent more than 90 percent of all GRF appropriations.
There are several remarkable conclusions that result from examining the data in Table 1. One is how the legislature has departed from their long-standing practice of applying “incrementalism” to their budget-making.
The idea of an incremental budget is that movement progresses in small, incremental amounts. Typically, the legislature chooses to add small amounts throughout the state budget, thereby satisfying lots of constituents but not really concentrating resources on any one state priority. As this table shows, what the legislature did to the governor’s budget this time was to make two big changes by adding $122 million to the amount that he requested for higher education and subtracting $379 million from what he [Strickland] proposed to spend in the Department of Job and Family Services.This shift of funds to higher education truly represents a major difference between what the governor wanted to do in the next biennium and what the legislature chose to do instead.
Table 2 provides the same information for FY 2009 appropriations and follows the same patterns set for FY 2008, only more dramatically.
For the second year of the biennium, the legislature gave higher education almost twice as much more as they did for FY 2009 and they reduced spending for Job and Family Services by more than half a billion dollars. All other state agencies were barely affected by the dollar changes made by the legislature.
In April 2007, Eric reported on some of the developments surrounding the proposed budget, including this quote from the Dispatch:
The governor’s plan to provide health insurance for some of Ohio’s neediest families likely will be dropped by House Republicans to pay part of their proposed increase in state aid to higher education.
In the end the largest beneficiary of the Republican-dominated legislature’s modified budget was the Board of Regents who gained an additional $300 million in funding. At the opposite end of the spectrum the House and Senate modified Strickland’s proposed budget by decreasing funding to the Department of Job and Family Services by $900 million dollars.
In his initial budget, Governor Strickland included the following proposals involving the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS):
- Create a program in the ODJFS to encourage job training and job creation for young people in low income communities. Thousands of young men and women will benefit from this opportunity.
- Strengthen Ohio’s workforce training system. Implement the coordination of workforce development activities between the ODJFS and the Ohio Department of Development in support of a unified economic development strategy.
Overall, the ODJFS plays a pretty important role in lives of many Ohioans, especially as we reflect upon the economic climate over the past 4 years. As described in the budget:
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) develops and oversees programs that provide health care, employment and economic assistance, child support, and other services to Ohio families and children. The programs and services offered are designed to help Ohioans be healthy and safe, while gaining and maintaining independence. These services are delivered at the local level by county family services agencies in a manner that recognizes and preserves individual rights, responsibilities, and dignity. The services include, but are not limited to, financial assistance, job training and placement services, child care, child protection services, family services, child support enforcement, and health care. Most of these programs are federally mandated and funded. Titles XIX and XXI of the Social Security Act fund the Medicaid health care program; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds financial assistance for families; the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds job training and job placement services for workers and employers; and Title III of the Social Security Act sets forth federal standards for administration of the unemployment insurance program and authorizes federal administrative funding for the program.
And because Ohio had no need for these extraneous services or programs that Strickland was proposing, the Republican-led legislature reduced the ODJFS funding by nearly one billion dollars over the two-year period. And in making this change and others, the General Assembly took over Strickland’s budget and converted it into a Republican Budget.
Before you accuse us of being partisan, we picked up the phrase Republican Budget from Speaker of the House Jon Husted (current Secretary of State) on the Ohio Republican Party’s own YouTube channel (July 3, 2007).
As we all know, Ohioans did not fare too well under this Republican Budget from 2007-2009. Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans lost their jobs during this two-year stretch, figures that were paraded out by John Kasich and the Ohio GOP during the 2010 election campaign. In fact, the vast majority of job losses blamed on Strickland occurred during the stretch from June 2007 – June 2009, the period covered by this budget. And while the Democratic Governor Strickland gets “credit” for a drop in employment that exceeded national figures, I don’t recall ever hearing current House Speaker Batchelder or Senate President Niehaus cite their role in crafting the 2007 budget as they stood arm-in-arm with John Kasich during the 2011 budget process. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall hearing any of the 29 current GOP legislators who helped shape the 2007 budget bragging about the 7% drop in employment as a part of their accomplishments as an elected official.
No, Ohio’s Republicans have selectively forgotten their distinct role in the 2007 budget and decided to pin the entire Ohio recession and increased unemployment squarely on Ted Strickland. I’m not sure why the blame is so exclusive when it occurred following the adoption of a Republican Budget.
Moving ahead and taking a brief look at some of the details of Strickland’s next budget in 2009 provides a very different picture. While the Ohio Senate still had the same alignment of party affiliation, the Ohio House now had a Democratic majority. Mid-2009 also found Ohio in (arguably) the deepest part of the recession, with most of the job losses having already occurred.
The 2007 budget received nearly unanimous support, but in July 2009, House Bill 1 narrowly passed through both the House (54-44) and Senate (17-15). The House members were split nearly along party lines (53 D), but the vote in the Senate saw five Republicans support Governor Strickland’s second budget. Once again on the notable list of Republicans supporting Strickland’s budget were Keith Faber and current Senate President Tom Niehaus.
Let me reiterate that last point: Outspoken Kasich supporters Keith Faber and Tom Niehaus each voted for BOTH of Ted Strickland’s budgets.
As is evident by the heavily partisan votes, Strickland’s 2009 budget could be described as much more partisan than his 2007 budget. Critics of Ohio’s Republican legislators’ tactics from that year included columnists from the Dispatch and the Cleveland Plain Dealer; individuals who would generally be considered supportive of John Kasich and his initiatives in 2011. Brian captured the emotions from that time period in two posts from November and December 2009 that described the effort to close a hole in the 2009 budget. Clearly, the Senate Republicans were no longer in the same collaborative mood that they had back in 2007. This was NOT their budget, and they weren’t pleased. Unlike 2007, this was a Democratic Budget and Democrats would clearly be held accountable for the results this time around.
Unless they weren’t. Admittedly, the jobs market and economy during the 2009-2011 time-frame of this budget couldn’t exactly be described as “great,” but the number of employed Ohioans did increase. And while the 2007 budget period saw a rate of job loss that was worse than the national decline, a look at the period from June 2009 – June 2011 reveals a recovery rate of slightly more than 1%. Not an eye-popping number, but when compared to a national rate of approximately 0.4%, it points to a better-than-national recovery for Ohioans. The fault of a Democratic Budget?
So here’s our reality check. The economy is a tremendously complex system that is much larger than just our state, and to try to draw simple conclusions from limited pieces of data is likely to mislead us. And while that might seem like a statement that negates everything we’ve written here, it’s also meant as a word of caution as we hear Governor Kasich and the current batch of Republicans tout their economic genius. The last Republican Budget resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and a horrible economy in Ohio and I’ve seen no indication that the GOP remembers it.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
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