Variety of topics at state rep’s Marietta roundtable

A variety of issues, including taxes, education and human services were discussed during a roundtable session with Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, at Lookout Park in Marietta Monday.

“I try to do one roundtable discussion a quarter in each of the four counties I serve,” Phillips explained. “It helps me stay in touch with concerns of local communities and allows me to keep people informed about what’s going on in their state government.”

Several people who attended Monday’s session had questions about how revenues from the proposed state severance tax on the oil and gas industry would be spent.

“As a citizen I’m concerned about this severance tax and how it impacts our townships and local government,” said Vincent-area resident Molly Varner.

Washington County Engineer Roger Wright also asked about the severance tax.

“The tax should be used to help take care of local impacts from the oil and gas industry,” he said.

Those impacts would include wear and tear on area roadways and other infrastructure.

Phillips said there are a couple of bills being considered by the general assembly regarding the proposed severance tax, but she questioned whether Gov. John Kasich’s recently proposed 2.75 percent tax on large-volume drillers is enough.

“We are below other states collecting a severance tax from oil and gas interests,” she said. “These companies are not going to leave if that tax is increased. We not only have to keep our roads maintained, but we also need to look at making long-term investments to support the communities impacted by drilling activity.”

Phillips also noted the administration has considered using the severance tax revenue to help offset a proposed statewide income tax cut.

“I think that would be a mistake,” she said. “There are all kinds of issues impacting our region from oil and gas interests. But a tax cut would only benefit the richest people throughout the state of Ohio.”

Tom Ballengee, director of Washington County Job and Family Services, asked about changes in the way human services are to be handled.

“A Human Service Innovation Office is being proposed, and the stated objective is an attempt to help break down the walls between different programs at Job and Family Services offices,” Phillips said. “The idea is to try to connect people with jobs and provide them with assistance needed to do that…to give them the dignity of being employed.'”

She said the innovation proposal is pretty vague at this point, and the measure has been broken into 14 separate bills sent to various legislative committees that will iron out the details.

Phillips said one of her concerns is a proposal that people collecting unemployment compensation would have to file their required job search reports online.

“But we have many people in our rural areas who have limited Internet capacity or who do not have computer access,” she said, noting that some legislators have suggested a waiver could be issued for those who can’t file online.

“But that waiver process needs to be put in writing first,” Phillips said.

On education, Phillips said the Ohio House of Representatives has passed a bill she sponsored that would increase police safety drills.

“Right now most schools do just one lockdown safety drill every year, but since the Columbine shootings, law enforcement has done a lot of research on what to do during such incidents,” she said. “This bill would provide for more police drills in the schools by trading off with some of the nine fire drills currently required.”

Phillips said the legislature also continues to struggle with school funding issues.

“Governor Kasich’s formula for education seems to be driving school funding toward charter schools,” she said. “But in this region we have good public schools that are struggling financially because they’re supported by local property taxes. So we’re continuing to fight for ways to get more financial support for schools in our local communities.”