Kasich capital bill not as small as advertised, but local governments still lose
We’ve already written about what’s in the capital budget. Aside from the $7.5 million for the Ohio Historical Society, a private nonprofit entity outside of state government, we found little to provoke controversy.
What’s not in the bill is raising more eyebrows. Democrats on the House Finance committee pressed OBM Director Tim Keen about the lack of funding in the bill for community projects—zoos, museums and parks that legislators add at the request of constituents back home to create jobs and revitalize communities.
Because four years have passed since Ohio enacted a capital budget, a long list of worthy projects has piled up, but legislators are being denied the opportunity, not because the money isn’t there—apparently the state could afford up to another $1 billion in spending while staying within the constitutional debt limit—but because, Director Keen testified, the Governor “at no point considered any community projects.”
I’ve speculated before that this could be part of a deliberate strategy, paired with slashing local government funds and canceling transportation projects around the state, to strong-arm local official and legislators into supporting Turnpike privatization as the only way to pay for needed projects. Whatever the reason, as House members prepare to vote on the bill tomorrow, they should keep in mind that Kasich made a deliberate choice to deny them funding for projects back home. It’s not that there was no money, it’s just that he didn’t want to spend it.
A related “fact” that’s been trotted out in testimony from the administration about this budget is its supposedly extraordinarily small size. According to Keen, the $1.74 billion capital bill that borrows $1.3 billion is the smallest in recent memory. From his March 14 testimony:
As a comparison, total biennial capital appropriations over the past decade have ranged from $2.4 to $3.5 billion, with $2.1 to $2.5 billion of those amounts being in the form of GRF-backed debt.
But it’s simply not true. Keen is deliberately ignoring the last capital budget, introduced and signed by a Governor, not named Kasich who also desired to limit the state’s borrowing and “restrain” the size of the capital budget. Strickland’s 2009-2010 capital bill, HB562, spent just $1.29 billion and borrowed $1.2 billion—smaller on both counts than Kasich’s bill.
And, even though it was smaller than Kasich’s, Strickland’s capital budget still managed to fund important projects in Ohio’s local communities. Kasich’s moves, taken together, make clear that he wants to starve local governments. And, by not allowing them to fund projects back home, he also appears to have little interest in good relations with legislators, a strategy that hasn’t worked out so well for him lately.