State should do no harm when balancing budget

An idea floated this week by Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives to generate desperately needed revenue for the state works only if the voters trust the legislators to keep their word. And that's a tall order, given that past promises have been broken.
Indeed, in the ongoing budget balancing exercise -- the General Assembly is trying to erase $4 billion in red ink from the two-year state spending plan -- there is talk of eliminating funding for libraries and depleting the Local Government Fund.
As former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andrew Douglas points out, state funding for libraries and local governments reflects a promise made by the legislature years ago when it was seeking support for a state income tax. Help us pass the income tax and we'll provide annual funding for local governments and libraries, they said.
But now, Republicans in the Columbus are, in effect, talking about breaking that promise.
Voter distrust of state government already exists, as evidenced by the ongoing public debate over the Ohio lottery. When the lottery was proposed, the legislature pledged that all the profits would go to education. What actually has occurred, however, is that while the lottery revenue does go into the education fund, the general fund allocation is reduced by that amount. In other words, education is not receiving additional money as a result of the lottery.
Now, legislators want the taxpayers to believe them when they say that the temporary 1 cent sales tax increase they're contemplating would be rescinded in November if a slot-machine initiative is approved. If the plan to place the gambling devices in Ohio's horse racing tracks is rejected, the penny sales tax increase would be in effect for two years.
Spending cuts
Republicans who control the House, Senate and the governor's office have been grappling with a budget that reflects the downturn in the national economy. They must either cut $4 billion from the biennium budget or develop a plan that generates new revenue while cutting spending.
We are encouraged that the legislative leadership has concluded that Ohio would be crippled if the budget were balanced with spending cuts alone.
The need for new revenue is evident and from our vantage point, the temporary 1 cent sales tax increase is the way to go. We aren't sold on the idea of expanding the current sales tax to those services that have traditionally been exempt, and we certainly oppose doing violence to the funding of primary, secondary and higher education.
As for the Local Government Fund, legislators must realize that just about every county, city, township and village is on the financial ropes and that money from the state is being used to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizenry.
In Youngstown, for example, the loss of the $3.6 million would mean 47 police officers and firefighters being laid off. That because 55 percent of the city's budget goes to the safety forces.
The Ohio Municipal League contends that between 800 and 900 townships and villages would go into fiscal emergency.
Gov. Bob Taft and the legislature must not do anything to exacerbate the problems already being faced by public universities and colleges, schools and local governments.
It would be irresponsible and unfair for state government to balance the budget on the backs of local communities. Tough economic times demand strong leadership.