Ohio on the Rocks, Can Strickland, Legislators Keep Ship of State From Running Aground?

ePluribus Media OhioNews Bureau

ONB COLUMBUS: When the respective chairmen of Ohio’s political delegations rise in 2008 at the presidential nominating conventions in Denver or Minneapolis and announce that the “great state of Ohio gives its 20 Electoral College votes to the next president of the United States…,” the great state they are referring to is considerably less great than it once was.

With big systems like schools, taxes and health care in need of big fixes that -- for reasons of partisan politics and budget constraints -- are not likely to emerge anytime soon, can the Buckeye State’s current crop of political leaders steer the ship of state around the economic and social reefs that have taken their toll on the great state in the last two decades?

Can Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland partner with Republicans (who still control the Legislature and who have every reason to watch him flounder) well enough to keep the ship of state afloat long enough so see whether the bleak economic skies hovering over it will break? Or do calmer seas lie ahead where the executive and legislative branches can man the state’s bilge pumps and give buoyancy to a ship riding dangerously close to its waterline?

But while political pundits and economic prognosticators speculate on big picture scenarios, the sea of choppy waters Ohio finds itself in may be roiled into crashing waves by the gathering storm that some say is the looming recession bearing down on it and the nation. With cities shrinking, jobs leaving, home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies increasing, an unconstitutional school funding system barely changed and college costs high than the national average, can Ohio maneuver around these dangerous waters that are ready to sink passing ships.

The days of Ohio’s economic glory, embodied in and made famous by the titan industries of steel, rubber, coal and cars, are long gone for many and on the ebb tide for others.

Many of Ohio’s problems and challenges have been documented in previous posts, but a new multi-part series by The Columbus Dispatch called “On the Brink”, a saga about Ohio’s failing cities, is an attempt by the mainstream media to dive into the depths of the fortunes and fates of Ohio’s once-great cities. It says what many having been saying for a long time: that the futures of not only our cities but our hard-pressed rural areas will be turned around once Ohio voters wake up and realize that they’ve been sold a bill of goods by the people they elected to public office in the past two decades – that what’s good for big business is good for the state, that if the rich get richer they’ll return their wealth in more investments, that health care should be market driven and left up to individuals, that pubic education and teacher’s unions are bad, socially divisive issues are good.

Charting a new course to better times may require them to undertake a course correction themselves. Unlearning what you’ve been told is good but which has proved to not be the case can try men’s souls to first acknowledge they’ve been wrong, then act on it to show they’ve wised up.

As a bite-sized smörgåsbord of recent stories that make paint a picture of Ohio’s current situation and what it faces going forward, one story projects that gas prices may hit $4 a gallon in 2008, one says all 88 counties have been declared natural disaster areas due to losses from this year’s drought conditions, one says Ohio’s already slow growth could get slower, one says cities have been savaged by Republican legislators who have attacked their local authority through Ohio’s historic Home Rule provision while one reports that Ohio’s budget is sufficiently tight that Strickland is extending a wage freeze for his cabinet officials and other top administrators along with other discretionary spending.

And since Ohio isn’t exempt from what happens on the national level, stories like this one, about President Bush’s reckless use of debt to fund his war in Iraq, which has now put our national debt at over $9 trillion dollars, and others like this from New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Paul Krugman that forecast the burgeoning affect on credit market and liquidity caused by high home foreclosures in Ohio and the nation will trigger a another, more severe recession than the one six years ago that Ohio has yet to recover from, is an ill wind that will only blow Ohio’s ship of state even further off course, making recovery that much more difficult.

In a year-end interview with Strickland about his first 11 months on the job, Dayton Daily News’s Bill Hershey provides a handy outline of Strickland’s accomplishments and his “to do list.”

While he has passed a two-year budget that included funding to expand health care to cover more children, pregnant women and the disabled, cut property taxes for all seniors citizens and disabled property owners and increased funding for higher education and froze college tuition for two years, his “to do list” includes reforms in Ohio‘s electric energy markets, health care, school funding and education.

As reported before here, the situation Strickland inherited from 16-years of Republican policies have resulted in high rates of home foreclosures, low rates of savings, high rates of credit card debt and personal bankruptcies, fewer jobs today that six years ago when the last recession ended and a general sense that the state is on the wrong track.

Ohio voters have repeatedly been led to believe that the interests of big business are more important than community interests, that reducing taxes, especially on business, will be good, that the market is always right even when it results in higher electric, natural gas and gasoline prices, that unions -- especially teacher unions -- are bad and should be subverted by outsourcing education dollars to private charter schools and that embracing socially divisive issues of framed by small but vocal groups who oppose gay marriage and who want government to impose itself into local decision making and the private lives of individuals will make Ohio look more attractive to outside families or businesses.

In order for Strickland to turnaround Ohio as he said he would when running for office last year, the challenge is to convince Ohio voters that what they’ve been told to do for nearly two decades is wrong, and that they need to have a change of heart and mind before its tool late to correct the course of their ship of state.

John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal.

If ePluribus Media readers have a news tip or story idea about Ohio politics or government, contact the OhioNews Bureau at: ohionews@epluribusmedia.org

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