‘Destructive change’ would result from passage
of proposed constitutional amendment
by Zach Schiller
(Plain Press, July 2005) You may have seen people circulating petitions for it at the West Side Market. It’s a proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution, backed by Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and his Citizens for Tax Reform.
The proposed amendment would limit the growth of state and local government spending to either the rate of inflation plus population change from the last year, or 3.5 percent, whichever is higher. Any spending increase above that would have to pass the legislature and then be approved by a majority of voters in a statewide election.
While that may sound reasonable, it’s a destructive change. It will make it impossible for Ohio to invest enough in its citizens – their education, health, safety and everything else that people need to live productive lives and the state needs to have a strong economy.
A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group in Washington, D.C., found that if this proposal had been in place since fiscal year 1995, Ohio would have had to cut $19 billion out of its spending over the last 11 years. Expenditures in fiscal 2005, which ends June 30, 2005, would have been $3 billion lower. That would have meant chopping one out of every six dollars the state spent.
A reduction like that for K-12 education would amount to more than $900 million, the equivalent of wiping out jobs of 15,000 teachers.
Under the proposal, if the state brings in more revenue than the spending that’s allowed, half of it would go back to taxpayers based on the amount of income tax they paid. That would favor high-income taxpayers, who pay relatively more in income taxes and less in other kinds of taxes.
The other half would go into a Budget Reserve Fund – but this fund, too, would be covered by the same spending limit, so it wouldn’t provide much protection for a rainy day. Once the reserve fund amounted to 15 percent of government spending, any money flowing into it would have to be returned to taxpayers.
The amendment also would override anything else in the state constitution. Forget about the requirement that the state must provide a “thorough and efficient” education.
Colorado adopted a constitutional amendment with similar limits on growth in 1992. When the economy fell into recession, the state got socked. It has had to cut spending to the bone, directly affecting the health and well being of people in the state. Fewer children in Colorado are immunized against disease than in any other state. Last year, Colorado ranked 48th of 50 states in the adequacy of prenatal care, down from 23rd in 1990. Spending on higher education has been badly squeezed.
The negative results in Colorado have caused the legislature there to pass a bill, supported by Republican Governor Bill Owens and key business leaders, which would suspend the limit for five years. It will be on the ballot in November 2005, just like the proposed spending limit in Ohio will be if proponents gather 332,000 signatures.
The Ohio proposal also would cover local governments, including school systems, and require voter approval of any local tax increase. It would allow any taxpayer to bring a lawsuit to enforce the amendment, and to collect court costs and attorneys’ fees if they won.
If you want to learn more about the proposed amendment and a group of more than 100 organizations called the Coalition for Ohio’s Future that is opposing it, check out the web site www.ohiosfuture.org, For additional information the Coalition for Ohio's Future can be contacted via email at OhiosFuture@yahoo.com or by phone at (216) 536-7480.
Zach Schiller is the Research Director for Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit institute that researches issues important to low- and middle-income Ohioans.
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