Columbus Dispatch. Feb. 7, 2021.

Editorial: DeWine proposes $1 billion to speed pandemic recovery in Ohio. Is it enough?

On the same day the Congressional Budget Office said that employment isn’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine rolled out a two-year state budget plan designed in part to help speed the recovery here.

DeWine proposed to state lawmakers a plan to spend about $1 billion to help Ohio businesses and communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said savings from previous budget cuts and federal funding of other programs, including Medicaid, will cover all but $150 million of the proposed package that will come from direct federal coronavirus relief dollars.

And he said the plan avoids tapping the state’s $2.7 billion rainy day fund, and it comes with no tax increases (depending on how you characterize a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees and a $2 increase in vehicle title fees to raise $127 million a year to help support the State Highway Patrol).

Question: Is $1 billion enough? And can the money be disbursed quickly enough to revive the small businesses and their employees who were pummeled by the pandemic?

Though unemployment rates in Ohio’s metro areas have started to come down, the latest report from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services shows the continued damage to the economy caused by the pandemic:

The Columbus metro area has lost 70,500 jobs during the past year, second only to the loss of 91,700 jobs in Cleveland. Cincinnati lost 51,500 jobs. Akron, Dayton and Toledo have each lost more than 20,000 jobs.

The unemployment rates for the main city in each of the metro areas have been running higher than the overall average for the metro area, a reflection that the big cities in the state have been hurt worse by the job losses than the surrounding suburbs and rural areas.

Ohio’s unemployment rate was 3.3% in November 2019 and 13.7% in April during a pandemic peak. The state rate was 5.5% in December – 4.9% in Franklin County and 5.2% in Columbus.

And while the Congressional Budget Office projects that the U.S. economy will grow at a robust 4.6% annual rate this year, it also projects that hiring will lag as consumer spending returns and employers become more comfortable with adding workers.

Congress has spent $4 trillion to keep the economy stable since the pandemic shuttered schools, offices, restaurants, gyms and other businesses, leading to roughly 10 million job losses and an economic decline of 3.5% last year.

As a group of 10 U.S. Senators countered President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion plan to contain the virus and stimulate the economy with a proposal of their own pegged at $618 billion, DeWine presented Ohio lawmakers with this plan for Ohio:

About $460 million would be used to support small businesses harmed by the pandemic, particularly bars, restaurants and entertainment venues, with $20 million budgeted for small businesses created during the pandemic.

About $200 million in grants would be for bars and restaurants, $150 million for other small businesses, $50 million for the lodging industry and $40 million for indoor entertainment venues.

And about $450 million would head to local communities, with $250 million going to expand broadband internet service to underserved areas and $200 million for local government infrastructure projects to help attract jobs.

The $250 million Ohio Residential Broadband Grant Program to expand access across the state in 2022 and 2023 would be unprecedented, and a welcome sight.

Approximately 1 million Ohioans live without internet access, The Dispatch found in a special report in October, and 80% to 90% of rural households (areas with 20 or fewer households per square mile) have no access to broadband.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted has advocated for statewide expansion after visiting rural communities where siblings squabble over who gets to log in to online classes and parents don’t have the option of working from home.

“They can’t participate in the modern economy, the modern education system, the modern health care system without it,” Husted said.

Now, the Ohio House will vet the governor’s proposed budget, and in addition to the questions of whether the aid is enough and coming fast enough, there also is this big question: Will that dysfunctional body go along with a spending plan designed to speed the recovery in Ohio?

___

Toledo Blade. Feb. 6, 2021.

Editorial: Kaptur’s warning

Marcy Kaptur is the longest-serving woman in the current Congress.

She has also been in the U.S. House of Representatives longer than any woman has served there, in all of U.S. history.

She came to the Congress in 1983.

She is 74 and has been a Democrat her entire voting life.

You might think she is worth listening to.

As it happens, she has a message for her party: Wake up.

Wake up or you will lose the House in the next election and maybe not regain it for many years.

Wake up or you will lose the working class to the Republicans, for good.

It is already happening.

Miss Kaptur points out that leadership in the House is dominated by members from the two coasts and from wealthy districts.

A political realignment is taking place. Rural America is already Republican and, more specifically, Trumpian. Now more and more working-class and working-poor Americans are leaving the Democratic Party and voting Republican. Why? Because they feel their plight, their reality, has at least been recognized by Donald Trump’s GOP.

Mind you, Miss Kaptur thinks Donald Trump did nothing for these voters and never seriously intended to. She also thinks he is psychologically “unbalanced.” But she recognizes what he recognized: what has happened to manufacturing and the working class in places like Toledo, Lorain, Lordstown and Youngstown, Wheeling, the Mon Valley, as well as parts of greater Cleveland, and Buffalo, and large swaths of greater Detroit.

She represents a district characterized by economic decline — Toledo, Lorain, and parts of greater Cleveland.

But these places and the people who live in them, says Miss Kaptur, are largely invisible to her Democratic colleagues in the House who are busy forming caucuses around identity politics. They don’t get her part of America, and they aren’t interested. She says that one colleague told her people should just move away.

There is no one like her, no one from a district like hers, in Democratic leadership. “It’s been very hard for regions like mine, which have had great economic attrition, to get fair standing” (in leadership), she says.

Instead, she says her colleagues tell her, up front, that they don’t get her or her voters.

Why don’t people just don’t move away from a place like Lorain, Ohio? Well, maybe because they were born there and their families are there.

Miss Kaptur still lives in the same simple house where she grew up, in Toledo.

She is an old-fashioned Roosevelt-Truman Democrat. But does she feel like a minority, a lonely voice, in the House caucus and in her party? “Yes, I do,” she says.

Well, Miss Kaptur is not going to retire or change parties or become a congressman without a party. She will keep on, and keep fighting for what she believes. Her latest cause is to establish an infectious disease unit in the National Institute of Health.

But she, like many Democrats, is disillusioned and alienated.

A devout Catholic, she cannot share the obsessive enthusiasm of her party for abortion. She is for women’s rights and rights to privacy, but not for government funding of abortion or late-term abortion.

She is an environmentalist, passionate about saving Lake Erie, but she also wants to save the auto industry — all that is left of industry in Toledo or Detroit.

Cultural questions are tough ones, morally and politically, but most people seek a balance.

And, no small thing, Miss Kaptur has been seriously disrespected by her party. She has been denied a major committee chairmanship after all these years — 20 terms in the House. Think about that and what it means to disrespect that.

“I think economics can bind us. I think that when we divide into too many subgroups, we lose the overarching theme,” says the congressman.

She’s right. Dead right.

The overarching theme should be opportunity, not identity.

Democrats in the House need to respect Marcy Kaptur, respect the people she represents, and respect what she identifies as the right and resonant overarching theme: opportunity; jobs. They need to counter the GOP’s appeal to the working class and not simply surrender the field.

Miss Kaptur has watched her beloved Ohio, once the ultimate swing state, turn more and more deeply red. The Dems will lose a lot more people if they do not start to listen to, and represent, middle America. They will wish they had first listened to Marcy Kaptur.

___

Sandusky Register. Feb. 6, 2021.

Editorial: Red flags in Milan

We don’t pretend to know what led to the Milan village council firing its fiscal officer, Mary Bruno, four years ago. But we’re troubled by the murky circumstances that seem to be surrounding it. We’re troubled by a pending lawsuit, and how much that is costing the village, in credibility and in tax dollars and/or insurance premiums.

We’re also troubled by what might be viewed as bullying from village officials, telling stories through an attorney about obscene gestures and bad behavior without documentation or a willingness to substantiate claims of that nature. That, unfortunately, seems to be more of the same.

We’re troubled the police chief stopped at Bruno’s home and confronted her last year, for a variety of reasons. We’re troubled with how a former mayor handled that incident

We appreciate the public service of every one of the village’s public servants, and the goodwill they have that comes with the willingness to serve your community. But we’re troubled, also, that in the four years since council voted to fire Bruno there have been four different mayors and a wholesale turnover in village staff.

We’re grateful that Ohio has a strong public records law, and to the Ohio Newspaper and Media Association for being forever vigilant to keep it strong. We’re grateful also that the Ohio auditor’s office, the Erie County sheriff and even the village have responded in a professional manner and provided records in response to our requests.

But questions remain concerning village council’s decision in February 2017 to fire Bruno, who worked for the village for 16 years with an unblemished record. And those questions are troubling.

We asked for all public records related to an investigation by the state auditor, and from the village, of alleged wrongdoing. The records we received back, however, seem like a collection of jigsaw pieces from different puzzles. There are a number of “red flags” cited by investigators related to Bruno, but how those concerns became established — and how these were resolved — is elusive, at best.

We’re shaking our collective heads.

Bruno was accused of theft, which led to her termination. But there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of theft. There is no finding of that, or of anything else from all those red flags investigators cited. There’s no original complaint against Bruno; there’s no documentation about how the allegations were developed or substantiated, and those might be the biggest red flags of all, indicating a different kind of wrongdoing, altogether.

Mary Bruno’s contention she was wrongfully terminated by the village of Milan — based on the available record — seems to us more credible than the allegations made against her. We hope she gets her day in court.

___

Youngstown Vindicator. Feb. 3, 2021.

Editorial: New plan to end gerrymandering could level playing field

How political districts for state and federal offices get drawn this year will be different from how it was done 10 years ago, and 10 years before that. Gerrymandering — the to-the-victor-go-the-spoils approach previously employed — has been ditched, mostly, for a new plan designed to make the process more fair, more equitable and more sensible.

On May 8, 2018, voters in Ohio approved a constitutional amendment establishing new procedures for Congressional and state office redistricting. Beginning with the 2020 redistricting cycle, instead of the dominant party in the statehouse having the last, last word on drawing the boundaries, a bipartisan commission will do it if members of the Ohio House and Ohio Senate cannot reach a bipartisan agreement on how the maps should be drawn.

That means 50 percent of Republican and 50 percent of Democrats in the state House and state Senate must approve any map proposed by legislators or a bipartisan committee will draw up a map seeking a bipartisan vote. If that fails, the duty reverts to lawmakers but any map that gets adopted will be approved for just four years, not 10.

When districts are gerrymandered, a practice employed by both political parties whenever they have the power to do it, maps get drawn based on demographics from race to occupation, and the final vote totals for candidates and percentages in a district are as predictable as it is true that tomorrow the sun will rise and set. Grouping residents by race or occupation, by urban and rural categories and by other characteristics, is designed to create majority and minority blocks within districts.

It’s why U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan’s district is shaped like a duck and stretches 151 miles from Lorain County to near the Indiana border. It’s why the boundaries of most federal districts squiggle and squirrel across multiple counties without apparent reason. The reason districts are drawn like that is a desired result: Elections decided by map maker-lawmakers with a partisan goal, those with the power to draw boundaries win, all the time.

With the division and spite there is in the electorate today, we’re not sure a vote about redistricting would have received the same level of voter support. But if ever there was a time when voters in Ohio, and across the country, needed assurance that our political process is fair, it’s today. In this post-2020 election world, voters need reassurances from every point of authority as is possible.

___

Cleveland Plain Dealer. Feb. 5, 2021.

Editorial: Cleveland is not out of the fiscal woods yet, but conservative budgeting keeps it in the game

In 2015, Cleveland Finance Director Sharon Dumas explained in a city video how Cleveland managed to emerge fiscally intact, albeit leaner, from the 2008-2010 Great Recession, despite extensive local factory and business layoffs and PNC’s 2008 acquisition of Cleveland’s venerable National City Bank.

Her account centered on the hands-on fiscal planning Mayor Frank Jackson insisted on when he became mayor 15 years ago. That included multiyear planning, buy-in from mid-level managers and below-the-line cuts that prioritized service delivery to residents and businesses, and obligations to existing city employees.

The approach helped keep Cleveland’s fiscal head above water then, and since.

And it illustrates why Jackson’s detail-oriented fiscal management -- with the help of the gifted Dumas, who became “interim” chief of staff more than three years ago yet continues to turn out detailed and credible budgets year after year -- keeps reaping benefits even now, in pandemic times.

Cleveland didn’t fall into the red last year, even as the pandemic throttled the state and local economy. And it’s still able to project $20 million in general-fund carry-over into 2022, albeit with asterisks.

That’s a monumental achievement in itself. It’s also a tribute to buy-in to the city’s careful planning by everyone from City Council to city unions to voters who in 2016 approved an all-important city income-tax increase starting in 2017.

When Cleveland City Council passed the city’s $1.84 billion 2020 budget last March, cleveland.com’s Robert Higgs reported it was designed “to weather a recession.” And it did.

There are two big asterisks, of course. One is the $60 million in federal COVID-19 relief Cleveland received last year for its general fund, along with $46.4 million in relief for city-owned Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Without that infusion, Cleveland would be facing a major financial crunch.

An even bigger asterisk is the question mark over the $300 million-plus in income-tax revenue Cleveland is believed to count on annually from commuters who work in the city but go home to the suburbs. That’s close to one-half its projected total general-fund revenues this year, Higgs reports. An Ohio law has let employers temporarily continue to withhold that money for Cleveland and other cities even for employees working from home in other communities in the pandemic, but that law has been challenged in court. And either way, it’s set to expire after the COVID-19 emergency ends. What then for those former commuters?

If office workers don’t return in large numbers to the city, tough times could be coming. Jackson and Dumas say they’ll make cuts and adjustments as needed. Jackson told our editorial board he is optimistic in the aggregate -- given productivity benefits that can accrue from having employees in one place, and the boost that downtown living has given to the city’s retail and entertainment amenities, a draw for city workers. But these downtown businesses were hard-hit by the pandemic, too, meaning restaurants and other fun venues in Cleveland’s core also face a slow recovery.

There is no way to sugarcoat it: The city’s reliance on commuter tax payments means the potential for a grim outcome is there if many office workers don’t return or the court challenge to Ohio’s law on municipal tax collections succeeds. The belt-tightening for Cleveland in that case would likely far outstrip even Jackson’s and Dumas’ demonstrated ability to prune and plan. Yet if it weren’t for their many years of prudent fiscal management, it no doubt would be far worse.

END