ABLE hopes to put the heart back in Ohio’s budget

(Plain Press, March 2006) With an eye toward influencing the statewide agenda of candidates in the upcoming Ohio primary and general elections, Advocates for Budget Legislation Equality (ABLE) held a meeting on February 18th at the West Side Ecumenical Ministry to begin planning a people’s budget for Ohio for fiscal years 2008-2009.  Those elected to the legislature this year will vote on the next state budget in 2007.

About 25 community activists attended the meeting. They examined critical social service program cuts in the current two-year state budget (2006-2007) and how the state’s tax policy changes are shifting the tax burden away from those who make the most onto the rest of the taxpayers.

May Dugan organizer Tim Walters explained how the current state budget reduced the number of families that qualified for Medicaid coverage by changing the eligibility from 100% to 90% of the federal poverty rate, increased fees for some medical services, reduced the amount of dental coverage allowable each year and made it more difficult for those with incomes less than $120 per month to obtain Disability Medical Assistance. Walters also noted that day care and senior services received no increase over the previous two-year state budget. Walters said, “there needs to be greater awareness of a transitional Medicaid program that can allow people to continue to receive health insurance for 6-12 months while attempting to restore their benefits.”

Zach Schiller of Policy Matters Ohio explained that the income tax reform bill that the state legislature passed exactly as Governor Bob Taft had proposed in February 2005 will result in the biggest tax reform in 30 years. Under this reform, said Schiller, the top state income tax bracket for those making $200,000 or more was reduced from 7.5% to less than 6%. When the new income tax reform is completely phased in over the next several years, it will result in $2 billion less is state revenue than the state received last year, an overall 21% reduction in income taxes collected.

Schiller says one good thing resulted from the income tax-reform. Taxpayers making less than $10,000 per year will not have to pay any state income tax. However, an increase in the state sales tax from 5% to 5.5% will wipe out any gain from the reduced income tax. He said poor people pay most of their taxes in sales tax. He invited people to look at the rate of taxes paid by different income groups on the Policy Matters website at www.policymattersohio.org/ohio_income-tax_cut_analysis_2005_02.htm

Two discussion groups were formed. In one, discussion centered around funding needs of social service programs such as health care, day care and head start, elderly programs, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, hunger programs, heating assistance and education. The other group focused on how proposed tax reforms by two Republican candidates for governor would continue to decrease the amount of state funds available for general services provided by the state of Ohio. Discussion included finding ways to explain to Ohioans how the tax reform proposals would impact services they use such as education, state parks, rest areas, senior services and libraries.

ABLE plans another meeting for March 22nd.  For information on the time and place call Organize! Ohio at 432-6070.

 

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