State Representatives Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) and Mike Curtin (D-Marble Cliff) today introduced a congressional redistricting reform proposal to put before voters.
In 2011, Congressional district boundaries were passed with almost no input from the public. The original GOP district plan split more than 200 Ohio counties, cities and townships. After an attempted citizens’ referendum of that unfair map, a second plan was passed but with only the mildest of improvements. The plan predictably has resulted in Ohio’s congressional delegation breaking 75 percent Republican and 25 percent Democratic, even though vote totals for candidates from the two parties appear much more competitive across the state.
Last year, HJR 12, a plan to reform state legislative redistricting passed both chambers with large bipartisan majorities and will go before the voters this fall. The proposal introduced today by Reps. Clyde and Curtin closely aligns with HJR 12 with small modifications to the population requirements as required by federal law and to the geographic criteria to accommodate larger congressional districts. The new proposal includes strong incentives for bipartisan agreement, strict limits on the splitting of communities, and prohibits drawing districts primarily to favor a political party.
“Our current congressional redistricting process disenfranchises Ohio citizens,” said Rep. Clyde. “We live under a plan that packs Democrats and African Americans into 4 of our 16 districts. In this 50-50 state, we have a 75-25 split in our congressional delegation. The way we draw congressional districts today allows state lawmakers to break apart communities and dilute the power of millions of Ohioans’ votes. Meaningful reform is needed to give our constituents better representation and greater transparency and accountability from their government. Our proposal will add fairness and common sense to the district-drawing process.”
“In my years as an observer of state government, I have seen dysfunction in Ohio and Washington grow to an all-time high, and it is a direct result of partisan gerrymandering,” said Rep. Curtin. “Lawmakers have stopped responding to the will of a majority of people because they only have to be accountable to a small faction of one party. The time for reform could never be greater, and doing it sooner rather than later is critically important. I am hopeful that we can take the legislature’s bipartisan agreement to reform state line-drawing one step further and give the voters the chance to approve congressional redistricting reform as well.”
When HJR 12 passed the General Assembly, GOP lawmakers said the congressional reform process must be put on hold until the Supreme Court issues a decision in the case Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. Although many experts believe the holding in that case will not apply in Ohio, today’s plan includes a clause addressing that concern. In the event that the Supreme Court rules that this Ohio proposal is unworkable, the clause would allow the state legislature to draw the congressional map, as we do under current law, but the geographic and fairness criteria from the new proposal would still be required.
Tuesday night, House lawmakers listened to Governor Kasich lay out his priorities and recap some past policies during his State of the State address in Wilmington.Here is what House lawmakers are saying about the Governor’s State of the State address:
"The trickle-down economic policies that the Governor proposes shift the responsibility of paying for schools, roads and bridges and community services to middle-class families and those that can least afford it. This kind of tax shifting does not create economic growth…We need to invest in what matters to every day Ohioans." – Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati)
“What his proposals actually do is shift the costs of running our state to the poor and middle class in order to provide yet another upper class tax cut, which as yet hasn't provided the growth in both jobs and income that we desperately need...” – Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain)
“At this critical juncture, we must invest in Ohio's students and infrastructure in order to fully ramp up our employment capabilities as we prepare for global economic challenges. This budget makes it even more difficult to effectively educate our students.” – Rep. John Patterson (D-Jefferson)
“This [budget] proposal is a continuation of the ever increasing burden being placed on our local communities to provide the services their citizens expect with less and less support from the State, which inevitably leads to rising tax rates at the local level.” -- Rep. John Rogers (D-Mentor-on-the-Lake)
“The Governor's remarks this evening were out of touch with the realities of everyday Ohioans. With 16 percent of Ohioans living in poverty and middle class families' wages stagnating, Governor Kasich wants to shift the burden of restoring our state's economy on to the shoulders of those struggling to make ends meet by raising the sales tax.” – Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent)
“Thank goodness Governor Kasich finally has the courage to stand up for Ohio’s wealthy. These tax shift policies give comfort to the comfortable while adding to the burden of those already struggling.” – Rep. Kent Smith (D-Euclid)
“I traveled to Wilmington hoping to hear sensible proposals to strengthen our public education system and support our middle class; instead, I heard the Governor continue to push tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and continue to favor private charter schools at the expense of our struggling public schools...” – Rep. Michele Leopre-Hagan (D-Youngstown)
“We can’t put politics ahead of making critical investments that improve the quality of our children’s education, expand access to healthcare and rebuild our local communities. There’s still a lot of work to be done.” – Rep. Christie Kuhns (D-Cincinnati)
“I was disappointed to hear Governor Kasich continue to push policies that have failed. Paying for tax cuts for the wealthy few by raising taxes on the rest of us isn't just wrong, it hurts the economy, too. And cutting our schools to pay for failing charter schools doesn't make sense either. I hope we can change this budget so it works for Ohio, and I hope we can get Governor Kasich to pay attention to what Ohio really needs.” – Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-Albany)
“I look forward to working alongside the Governor and the members of the majority in remedying our disagreements, and finding ways to not only move Ohio forward but to strengthen the middle class and return much-needed funding to our local governments.” – Assistant Minority Leader Nick Celebrezze (D-Parma)
“Tonight, I wanted to see the Governor talk to Ohioans who are still struggling to make ends meet. Instead I felt a disconnect with the fact that we have about 80,000 fewer jobs than we did when the great recession started, and that poverty is up and median income is down.
“More trickle-down economic policies shift the responsibility of paying for schools, tax incentives for businesses, and community services to middle-class families. We’re risking derailing Ohio’s already-sluggish economic recovery in order to provide another break for those who don’t really need it.
“We can’t continue to squeeze working and middle class families to pay for tax cuts that only benefit the wealthy few; we can’t put politics ahead of making the necessary investments for our future in necessities like quality education, healthcare, and thriving communities that attract businesses.
“So, while we were pleased to hear the governor lay out a plan to address the challenges that we face, we're also concerned that the state continues down a road that puts the wealth of the one percent over the strength of our families, the opportunity for a higher quality of life and the prosperity of all Ohioans.” – Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton)
State Rep. and Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) President Alicia Reece joined OLBC members, community leaders and citizens from around Ohio today for the OLBC’s Third Annual Day of Action. The event began with the State of African Americans in Ohio presentation followed by the unveiling of the OLBC’s 2015 policy agenda.
The Day of Action also included an interactive town hall meeting, a voting rights action meeting with clergy and civil rights leaders and an African American business action update.
“Next week, the governor will give his state of the state. We thought it was important to give the State of African Americans in Ohio— African Americans who are facing 15 percent unemployment and one-third of whom are living below the poverty line while confronting the harsh reality that 50 percent of our children live in poverty in our state,” said State Rep. and OLBC President Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati). “As we debate the proposed 70 billion dollar state budget, it is time to invest in the economic prosperity of African American citizens who have been left behind.”
John Crawford II, father of slain Beavercreek teen John Crawford III, also attended the day of action to show his support for the group that championed legislation in his fallen son’s name.
“Too many individuals know the problems and challenges our communities face, but it can seem hopeless without identifying solutions and putting a plan in place,” said State Rep. and OLBC Day of Action Chair Emilia Sykes (D-Akron). “The Day of Action brings people together from all over the state to discuss real change we can effect on a statewide level to make sure African Americans in Ohio have a fair shot at a higher quality of life.”
During the State of African Americans presentation, Rep. Reece unveiled the OLBC’s “Prosperity Plan” for 2015. The lawmaker proposed action items that must be taken up to continue empowering and advancing the black community.
Proposals for the Prosperity Plan include, increasing job training programs, closing the education achievement gap by implementing a “0 to 3 Guarantee” for early childhood education, finding common-sense criminal justice reforms while passing the John Crawford Law, preventing voter disenfranchisement and improving minority business programs and resources.
“The OLBC Day of Action addressed pressing public policy issues in the African-American community as it relates to infant mortality, education, workforce development and minority owned businesses,” said State Rep. and 2nd OLBC Vice President Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland). “We will continue to advocate for policies that will help make Ohio a more inclusive environment to all individuals living and working in our great state.”
The group discussed the challenges of and issues surrounding criminal justice reform, education, employment, healthcare and voting rights in the black community during the town hall meeting. OLBC members and advocates said that issues which disproportionately affect the black community are hurdles to advancement—African American unemployment numbers at 15 percent, a 33.6 percent poverty rate and the worst state ranking in the nation for infant mortality.
Today House Democratic lawmakers and healthcare advocates discussed policies in the state budget that would limit pregnancy care, family planning and breast and cervical cancer treatment for lower income Ohioans. The changes in healthcare coverage are being proposed as Ohio ranks second highest in the nation for infant mortality.
Here is what House lawmakers and healthcare advocates are saying about the governor’s proposal:
“Ohioans still need these safety net services, and leaving them without coverage will increase our infant mortality rate and risk the health and well-being of Ohio families. Reducing unintended pregnancies and making sure women have access to prenatal care are two of the most critical things we can do to prevent infant mortality. The governor’s changes could set us back at a time when we should be making progress on reducing infant mortality in our state.” –Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron)
“This isn’t a gender issue. It isn’t male or female. This isn’t an issue just about women’s health. This is an issue about family health in Ohio. The most important thing that we should be concerned about is the abysmal infant mortality rate numbers in Ohio that are some of the worst in the country. We should do everything we can, put every resource we have into improving those numbers.”—Assistant Democratic Whip Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood)
“A major risk factor of infant mortality is lack of resources, which will certainly be a consequence of the governor’s proposed plan to cut health services for pregnant women. If we say we want reduce the abysmal infant mortality rate in this state, we should continue to focus on ways to help alleviate poverty, which affects nearly 3 million impoverished Ohioans, including many families in my district in Youngstown where over 60 percent of children are living in poverty. Ohio families deserve better.” –Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown)
“When we cut access to prenatal care, we risk worsening our state’s already dismal infant mortality rate. I encourage my colleagues to take a stand against these harmful budget provisions. We cannot abandon families when they need us most.” –Rep. Greta Johnson (D-Akron)
“Although this administration has said they are focusing on reducing our infant mortality rate, some of the policies they want enacted do exactly the opposite. Making sure women have access to preventative healthcare through these services is critical to reducing unintended pregnancy rates, which are directly tied to the infant mortality rate.” –Jaime Miracle (NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio)
“It is a right for women to have access to prenatal care and while we are glad the governor is doing some things that are helpful, we are disappointed that some of the measures being proposed will adversely affect poor women, especially those in Mahoning County.” –Rev. Dr. Susan Smith
The Kasich Administration today presented to House lawmakers an overview of the myriad of changes to the way Ohioans pay taxes under a state budget proposal that would increase state spending by $10 billion.
Democratic members of the committee said that though it is still early in the budget process, there is caucus-wide concern about continued tax shifting in the bill—something the Democratic members say slows economic growth.
“There is certainly a lot to consider in this bill, but one thing that raises a red flag is this continued tax shifting in our state,” said Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati). “Increasing the cost of goods and services to fund untargeted income tax cuts will not grow our economy. It just shifts the responsibility of paying for schools and community services to families that can least afford it.”
Though the state’s job growth has lagged the nation’s since Ohio’s untargeted income tax cuts of 2005, the budget proposal would increase the state sales tax by 8.7 percent and commercial taxes on businesses by 23 percent to help cover the $4.6 billion price tag of untargeted income tax cuts that largely favor the wealthy.
Under the proposed budget, the wealthiest Ohioans would see an average tax cut of $12,000 while Ohioans making $20,000 to $58,000 would actually pay more in taxes, according to an analysis of the changes by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
“When we pay for untargeted income tax cuts by hiking other taxes, Ohioans just end up getting nickeled and dimed,” said State Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire). “Tax shifting concerns that came out from members on both sides of the aisle this week seem to indicate we have a lot of work to do to make sure we’re strengthening families, businesses and communities through fair tax policies.”
About half of schools in the state will see funding reductions because of a new funding formula based on a district’s ability to raise revenue through local property tax increases.
“This week, it became pretty clear that shifting taxes from the state to local property tax payers is the direction Governor Kasich wants to take our school funding formula,” said Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-Albany). “Not only is this unfair; it is contrary to the Supreme Court order to reduce reliance on local property taxes for education.”
Funding for local communities remains tied to overall state revenues at a rate of 1.66 percent. And because state revenues are increasing, locals could see a small bump in state funding. However, the state is also phasing out tangible personal property tax reimbursements for locals, which will mean $204 million in cuts to some local governments over the next two years.
“We know our state is stronger when everyone has a fair opportunity at a higher quality of life,” said Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron). “The fact that there is concern about tax shifting on both sides of the aisle really speaks to a relative lack of progress our state sees under a trickle-down economic approach.”
The state will also help pay for the untargeted income tax cuts by increasing the state’s cigarette tax by a dollar per pack, raising the severance tax on oil and natural gas, and considering a tax on Social Security benefits for some senior citizens.
“After you really uncover who pays more under this proposed tax shift, the results are bad for businesses, bad for our economy and bad for everyday Ohioans,” added Rep. Sykes.
The full budget committee marked its final hearing this week with the presentation from the Ohio Department of Taxation today, after hearing from executive branch agencies on education on Tuesday and Health and Human Services on Wednesday.
You can watch House finance committee proceedings live at http://www.ohiochannel.org
State Reps. Michael Ashford (D-Toledo), Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Michael P. Sheehy (D-Oregon) today released the following statement mourning the loss of Toledo Mayor Michael Collins:
“With heavy hearts, our city and state mourn the loss of our strong, devoted leader and friend Michael Collins. A veteran, police officer, councilman, professor—and a fierce advocate for our great city and its citizens—our mayor’s devotion was to selfless public service and his family.
“During this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those whose lives he touched. He will be greatly missed and dearly remembered.”
State Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) today announced that he will soon introduce legislation to help cities and local law enforcement officials shutter dangerous properties with a history of violence.
The need for a law change was brought to Rep. Leland’s attention by the Columbus City Attorney’s office, the Columbus Police Department and community activists, who are spearheading efforts to shut down nuisance properties in the Northland region of Columbus.
“This bill will give police officers and code enforcement officials across the State of Ohio one additional tool to fight crime,” said Rep. Leland. “No one should have to live in fear because of dangerous activity taking place next door. It will make our communities stronger and safer."
Current law doesn't allow for properties to be shuttered because of a pattern of violence—they must mainly have a history of prostitution or illegal drug or alcohol sales before the courts can take action.
Leland’s proposal would change the definition of “nuisance” in Ohio law to include places where violent offences occur.
The legislation is supported by the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police.
Democratic members of the House’s budget panel today discussed their priorities for the upcoming state budget. Details of the governor’s version of the state budget are expected to be available Monday, Feb. 2.
The Democratic representatives said their primary goal is to better position the state to compete for quality jobs through investments in education, access to healthcare, community development and a more targeted approach on taxes.
“We are really focused on building opportunity so every Ohioan has a fair shot at a higher quality of life,” said Rep. Driehaus. “In the past, the state has walked away from that with complicated policies that don’t make sense for the working families and small businesses that drive demand and innovation in our economy.”
Democrats said a better economic climate would be achieved with a budget that prioritizes fairer tax policies. They say there is a growing disparity between the taxes paid by the state’s wealthiest and middle class. A recent study by the nonpartisan think tank Policy Matters Ohio shows middle class Ohioans pay roughly 10.6 percent of their income in taxes, while people making $350,000 or more pay, on average, just 7 percent.
The committee members said the state must stop shifting taxes through untargeted cuts to the income tax, which has only increased the sales tax, property taxes at the local level and taxes on Ohio businesses in the past.
“Instead of middle and working class Ohioans paying an unfair share of their income in state and local taxes, we need to be rewarding hard work through fair tax policies to strengthen families and businesses that grow our economy,” said Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire). “Families should have time to sit around the dinner table, talk about their day and plan for the future— not less time at home because mom and dad need to work two jobs to just keep up with the cost of living.”
To attract the jobs of the future, Democrats said long-term, sustainable investments in education are necessary. The group pointed to over half-a billion dollars cut from schools in the past four years and the tax shifting that takes place when local homeowners are asked to make up shortfalls through levy increases. Democrats also called for charter school reform to ensure taxpayer dollars are going to community schools have the same standards as public schools.
“We need to create opportunity and attract businesses of the new economy by investing in our children and workers to make sure they get the best education in the best schools to compete for jobs of the future,” said Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain). “We need to provide an equal opportunity framework for children from all backgrounds to not only succeed, but to excel.”
Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) said meaningful economic growth is also tied to robust, sustainable communities. The lawmaker said communities have not gotten their fair share of tax revenues they send to the state and that the consequences of that have been real. One-third of Ohio communities lack the recommended level of budget reserves and communities have been forced to cut some 41,000 jobs of police officers, essential personnel and firefighters, according to Policy Matters Ohio.
“It seems like there’s been an inside the beltway mentality coming from Columbus, where folks making decisions forget about sending the tax dollars they collect from our communities back home,” said Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati). “Rebuilding our communities will help drive business growth, consumer confidence and quality jobs in every corner of our state, not just the Columbus metropolitan area.”
Finally, the Democratic representatives called for supporting access to healthcare for uninsured working Ohioans. Citing the half-a million more Ohioans and tens of thousands of veterans with increased access to healthcare since 2013, the group said healthcare access should be a top budget priority.
“Quality, preventive healthcare is critical to a higher quality of life,” said Rep. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood). “Supporting access to healthcare for the uninsured means Ohioans can be more productive at work, advance their careers and focus on their families.”
In response to a state released report today looking at statewide community school attendance, State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) announced she will reintroduce a bill to establish a committee to study the effectiveness of community schools and community school regulations.
“So many parents, teachers, kids and education advocates for so many years have been sounding the warning siren about our state’s wasteful spending on ineffective charter schools,” said Fedor. “Now, it looks like the political will in Columbus is finally starting to catch up with the reforms that are necessary to make sure our children get the best education in the best schools to prepare them for success.”
In the report, Auditor Dave Yost critiqued several aspects of current charter school laws and noted “unusually high” discrepancies between the number of students in school and the number reported to the state. At least seven charter schools that state reviewed had enrollment levels 34 percent to 93 percent less than what was reported to the state for funding purposes.
“At its worst this looks like systemic fraud and abuse from a group of charter schools, and at its best this is reflection of the state’s long-term failure to hold charter schools accountable,” Fedor added. “Either way, taxpayers and our children are being robbed. I’ll be pushing for a collective effort to fix this mess once and for all.”
Fedor, a former public school teacher, said she wants to see a state study commission in place, one that would review the effectiveness of charter school regulations and issue findings to the legislature and governor.
Fedor also said that when the state first embraced charter schools in 1997, the authorizing law came with the condition that a review would help guide what was being billed at the time as an “experiment” by charter proponents.
Such a review or study has yet to take place.
An aging bridge that was being prepared for controlled demolition unexpectedly collapsed on Monday, killing a construction worker and injuring a truck driver. The Hopple Street bridge collapsed around 10:30 p.m. when a section being prepped crumbled and fell onto I-75 below.
State Representative Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) issued the following statement in response to the incident:
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families who have been affected by this tragedy. We now need answers as to how this happened and what the state can do to prevent something so tragic from happening again. As the ranking member of the transportation finance committee, I am committed to ensuring a full investigation takes place to detail the cause of the collapse and to ensure we have every possible protocol in place to protect workers and the public.”