Think tank gives budget suggestions to save Ohio taxpayers $2.5 billion


COLUMBUS (WKBN) — How our tax dollars are spent is important to a lot of people for a lot of reasons and while the state brings in billions, it is never enough to cover all of the things people want it to be spent on.

It is up to lawmakers at the Statehouse to figure out how to best use those dollars for the betterment of all Ohioans.

The process of coming up with a biennial budget takes months to complete and days of sitting in hearing rooms, listening to testimony about why this or that should be funded and to what level.

In the end, the state must have a balanced budget passed by the end of June.

That State Operating Budget is enormous — that’s why it takes so long to get through.

In an attempt to point out areas where lawmakers could potentially find some savings, the Buckeye Institute develops what it calls its Piglet Book.

This year, the Piglet Book report states the conservative think tank was able to trim $2.5 billion out of the budget by getting rid of what it feels is burdensome licensing, extraneous government spending, unneeded handouts and government advocacy, and crony capitalism.

The greatest amount of savings would be by trimming back in the extraneous government spending section. Here, the report indicates that by using a different calculation for capping spending, $2.2 billion could be saved.

The proposed cap is reflective of population and inflation. The current statutory cap is greater than the proposed cap.

The author of the report, Greg Lawson, says we are overdue for a recession and now is not the time to be making financial promises.

“The problem is always when you keep spending more, and more and more, then when the bad times hit, you’re going to have to do one of two things,” he said. “You’re either going to raise taxes in a bad economic environment — which is not good for growth and job creation — or you’re going to be taking a meat cleaver to the budget instead of a scalpel. It’s time to use a scalpel, not a meat cleaver.”

Beyond simply tightening the belt, the report points out three other areas that have potential savings, according to the Buckeye Institute.

In the section that would see the most savings, there is a single entity the Buckeye Institute targets with its suggested cuts — the Taft-era creation 3rd Frontier.

Lawson says more than $200 million could be saved by cutting funding to the program that he feels reflects crony capitalism by selecting specific companies to get tax dollars to grow the business.

Another $10 million per year could be saved by cutting funding to the marketing of tourism to Ohio, according to Lawson. He says to let the major attractions in Ohio do their own marketing.

When it comes to marketing, an additional $10 million per year could be saved by slashing spending to market Ohio wines.

Looking at a different area of the budget, the Buckeye Institute has once again advocated for a reduction in funding of the Ohio Arts Council. This time, they suggested stripping all $33 million in funding proposed in Governor DeWine’s blue book.

Justin Nigro, with the Ohio Arts Council, says doing that would be a tremendous blow to arts across the state. He says it would impact every single county because the grants they provide go to artists and organizations large and small.

Lawson does not want it to get twisted. He says this has nothing to do with the merit these organizations have to the quality of life for Ohioans.

“When we say we want to reduce the spending on the Arts Council, for example, we’re not saying that nobody should be spending money on art. We recognize that culture is an extremely important thing but there’s tons of private philanthropists that are out there and ways that we can do this through the private sector,” Lawson said.

Nigro says that’s not how it works.

“The way that it works is that public funding helps to leverage private funding, helps to leverage support from donors, folks in the community, community foundations all across the state. So we’re all working together.”

In speaking to lawmakers about the report, many admitted they had not read the entire thing. However, they did say they will be taking a long and hard look at every budget request.

“There are ways to spend responsibly, and thoughtfully and in ways that benefit the people that live in our state,” State Rep. Brigid Kelly said.

Serving on the same Finance Subcommittee with Kelly is State Rep. Scott Lipps.

He says the Buckeye Institute may be on the right track with some of its findings and it is possible that some things may have been overfunded in the past. However, he does feel the state has an obligation to pay for some things that may look extraneous but have a value not easily calculated.

“Ohio has a responsibility to help market itself, so that’s our job also. We can’t leave it to one sector. We have to pay,” Lipps said.

Lawmakers like Lipps and Kelly have been going through hearings on the House side of the Statehouse for a few weeks now. The Senate is set to begin doing the same in the coming weeks.

Sen. Dave Burke showed some of the heavy reading he was planning on doing over the weekend. He says it will be at least a week before he would be able to weigh in on what the Buckeye Institute is suggesting. He still has questions about how they came up with their numbers.

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