The Ohio Budget

What is “The Budget”?

Ohio’s government has four budgets it needs to allocate during each general assembly: Transportation, Capital Expenditures, the Bureau of Workers Compensation, and the operating budget. These four budgets added up divvy up approximately $128.3 billion of tax revenue and federal funds to every public agency, project, and investment in the state. While some projects, known usually as “line items” or “items” are specialized, the vast majority of the $128.3 billion is allocated in the operating budget, otherwise known simply as “The Budget.”

Why Should I Care About The Budget?

While most of the headlines we see about legislation are federal, state government plays a much larger role in your daily life. The Budget is a two-year plan set forth by the governor, the Ohio House of Representatives, and the Ohio Senate to spend all of the money we receive from the federal government. In a state gerrymandered to favor conservatives, this takes the shape of public agencies having to defend their workers and budgets against “deficit hawks” eager for an opportunity to grandstand. From keystone projects to office supplies, constant scrutiny is applied in an endless game of demonstrating that each legislator is the best lapdog for their donors’ interests. To counteract this, public institutions are reduced to selling necessities such as healthcare and education as sound investments in hopes of avoiding getting sacrificed on the altar of “trimming fat.”

The Budget, while mainly a fiscal document, has slowly ballooned into a legislative bill as well. While not the original intent, operating budgets have become a way for legislators to bargain with each other to add on legislation not at all relevant to the daily business of running the state in exchange for votes. At best, these additions are hyper-local pet projects that legislators can campaign on in the district. At worst, lawmakers can tack unpopular legislation onto the multi-thousand page document in an attempt to sneak it past voters. One of the best examples of this is regarding a small piece of language added into the 2014 biennial budget which increased the minimum distance needed between a wind turbine and private property. Added in the dead of night by the Republican Caucus, this small change has effectively strangled wind energy in Ohio in the crib. Operating budgets are the largest single piece of legislation each of Ohio’s General Assemblies undergoes and at 2,602 pages, this year’s budget is no different.

As socialists, The Budget is more than a vehicle for endless cuts and legislation too contentious to be considered by itself: it is a tool of class warfare. Time and time again, our operating budgets have dismantled programs meant for the working class and funneled wealth upwards to the rich. Legislators slash statewide supports while introducing or protecting relief for their own districts, highlighting neoliberalism’s an abject failure. Operating budgets are contradictory, disjointed and chaotic documents, completely representative of the economic system that dictates it. If we want to build a society that works for all of us instead of a moneyed few, we need to be able to understand and communicate exactly how Ohio is failing its working families. Thankfully, all this information is public record. We just need to read it.

 Crisis Pregnancy Centers

About a month ago, when the Ohio budget was still being debated, you might’ve heard about the $5 million being allocated for anti-abortion, fake women’s health clinics, also known as Crisis Pregnancy Centers. There was a lot of push-back against this, as there should’ve been. These anti-abortion clinics are private entities that often push a fundamentalist Christian, life-begins-at-conception rhetoric. Even if they don’t explicitly tell pregnant people that if they get an abortion they’ll be damned to hell, these fake clinics spread misinformation and outright lies about abortion and reproductive health. For a bit more on fake clinics, check out this other blog post I wrote. 

On July 18th, the Ohio budget was finally signed by Gov. DeWine. In the budget’s final form, that $5 million for crisis pregnancy centers wasn’t reallocated, as many wished it could be. Instead, it went up to $7.5 million. Ohio is definitely in crisis when it comes to reproductive health — our infant mortality rate is 25% higher than the national average, with black babies being three times more likely to not reach their first birthday. Why not funnel even a portion of that $7.5 million towards repairing this extreme racial disparity in infant mortality? It doesn’t seem very “pro-life” to spend millions of taxpayers dollars on scaring pregnant people away from the option of abortion and then ignore the babies that are already being born. Our reproductive health crisis is not one that will be solved by crisis pregnancy centers, and these “clinics” and their state-sanctioned financial support will just make outcomes for pregnant people, especially those who are POC or low-income, even worse. The $7.5 million in Ohio’s state budget for crisis pregnancy centers is about more than a conservative mission to “protect” fetuses. It’s about controlling bodies (namely black and brown, and/or female bodies) and restricting reproductive healthcare from those who need it the most.

The FY 2020-2021 Ohio Budget and Education – Missed Opportunities and Attacks on Public Education

When he signed Ohio’s biennial budget on July 18th, Governor DeWine touted its investment in the future, including additional spending in the public education budget. In fact, that was one of the reasons why the majority of Democrats in the state house, and all but one Democrat in the state senate joined Republicans to support the budget. However, when you look at the details you see that the legislature has failed – again – to address equity in public education funding, while simultaneously inserting giveaways to private religious schools and unaccountable charter schools. Even their shining achievement, $675 million in new funding split over two years for student wellness programs, doesn’t even bring our total spending on K-12 public education to what it was in 2010 before John Kasich took office. And that’s before even adjusting for inflation.

Unconstitutional School Funding

In March 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in DeRolph v. State that Ohio’s public school funding formula was unconstitutional because it relied too heavily on property taxes and produced “unequal, inefficient, and inadequate results.” While low-income urban and rural districts were impacted by this discrepancy the most, even wealthier districts struggled with the burden on local taxes due to the state’s failure to provide adequate funding.

Twenty-two years and three more court rulings later, and Ohio’s school funding formula is still unconstitutional because of its reliance on property taxes. In addition to being unconstitutional, the school funding formula has been fundamentally broken in recent years with fewer than 20% of the districts receiving what the formula dictates, and the remaining districts receiving a “capped” or “guaranteed” amount, i.e. the floor or the ceiling of potential school funding. 

It looked like the legislature might finally address this issue with a school funding formula that was moving through the legislature simultaneously with the state budget. Unfortunately the new formula disproportionately assisted large suburban school districts, many of which had been capped under the current policy, and did a lot less to help urban and rural school districts that are dealing with higher rates of poverty. The formula would have cost Ohio an additional $1.1 billion in education spending, nearly double the amount that the DeWine administration had proposed adding to the K-12 school budget. 

While there were legitimate concerns about education spending equity, Republicans and conservative Democrats were also skeptical of the overall price tag, and those issues combined to kill the formula and instead cement support for DeWine’s education spending, which is earmarked for specific student wellness programs. While that funding will be useful, it’s pitifully small, comes with too many limitations, and unlike a fixed funding formula, it does not give districts the expectation of being able to count on that money beyond the two-year budget cycle, preventing them from making the investments their schools need. 

Attacks on Public Education

As mentioned earlier, the Budget, “while mainly a fiscal document, has slowly ballooned into a legislative bill as well,” and nowhere is that more true than in education policy. The legislature inserted giveaways to private and charter schools that have the effect of weakening public education and lowering the standards for students and educators. 

First, provisions were inserted that weaken accountability for charter schools, making it harder to close down charter schools with serious performance issues. This is a policy change that never could have passed on its own merits. In the wake of the ECOT charter school scandal, when Ohio was defrauded for nearly $200 million, it is politically toxic to make it harder to close down a failing charter school. That’s why non-appropriations policies like this end up in the Budget —  because the Budget is the only “must-pass” piece of legislation. 

Likewise, a $50 million expansion of private school vouchers that had failed to even make it out of committee in the previous General Assembly was added into the Budget. This policy will expand both the grade years covered by Ohio’s private school vouchers and expand the pool of potential voucher recipients. The result will drain public school budgets around the state. 

What Now?

If you’re mad about what you’ve just read, you’re not alone. Come to a happy hour (every Tuesday at 7 PM at the Rehab Tavern) to learn more about what DSA is doing to push back on this agenda.

And if you’re wondering whether there’s a CPC in your area, visit https://www.exposefakeclinics.com/cpc for an interactive map of fake clinics across the US. More than ever, we need to be building awareness of how harmful CPCs are.