The Ohio House is currently engaged in making some very difficult decisions as we face a more than $8 billion budget deficit. The labor climate has gotten testy, and now, more than ever, we need to reexamine every aspect of Ohio's economy and ensure that every government dollar is spent responsibly. The question is: How can we achieve that?
It's important to keep the big picture in mind. We want to give our children and grandchildren every opportunity to succeed right here in Ohio; we don't want them to have to abandon this great state simply because we've failed to provide the proper job climate or tax code.
If we start making changes today to the way Ohio spends our tax dollars, we can be on our way to restoring the greatness of the Buckeye State. We realize these changes will take time, but we can't wait any longer. The recent passage of the governor's JobsOhio bill (House Bill 1) was a good first step on the road to recovery.
I am a co-sponsor of House Bill 2, which recently passed the House. It would require the Auditor of State to conduct performance audits of certain state agencies each biennium. Among the first agencies that will be audited are the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services and the Ohio Department of Transportation. The bill also requires state agencies to implement the recommendations of their performance audit, which will make our government more productive and responsive. State Auditor Dave Yost highly recommended the passage of House Bill 2 because of the immediate and long-term savings Ohio can realize merely by eliminating waste and inefficiency.
In 2005, the state of Washington implemented legislation that has collectively identified more than $4 billion in waste, and I believe that auditing Ohio's government could give us comparable results. We must insist that our government act as efficiently and productively as possible. Any savings identified and implemented will lower the demand for additional tax dollars.
Another bill that is vital during this economy is House Bill 30, which eliminates several of the unfunded or underfunded educational mandates that were included in last year's House Bill 1. Especially in these trying financial times, school districts need more flexibility to meet the needs of students, and I believe that a "Columbus knows best" educational policy would prevent local districts from deciding for themselves how to provide the best possible education for our children. We've known for a long time that a "one-size-fits-all" approach to education won't work, particularly for our part of the state. I met last week with many of the superintendents in the district and assured them that I welcome their advice as I get up to speed on the issues that matter most, including meeting unfunded mandates and scarce revenue at the state level.
House Bill 30 would eliminate the mandate that school districts offer all-day, every-day kindergarten, but would not prohibit all-day kindergarten for those districts that choose to have it. The bill will also repeal the requirement that schools lower the student-to-teacher ratio, a requirement that in the past has caused many districts to scramble to find the means to hire more teachers or find more learning spaces.
Ohio school districts need flexibility and some level of certainty about the expectations and requirements that face them in the upcoming biennium. Adopting House Bill 30 will help Ohio's school districts to better weather the current financial storm.
There are many other important legislative initiatives that I will discuss in my next column. Rest assured that better days are coming for our district and our state.
To the residents of Guernsey, Monroe, Noble, Washington and Muskingum counties, I assure you that I am working to bring about a more sustainable budget and economically-friendly environment. Job creation and the elimination of waste and costly mandates are three steps in the right direction.
Rep. Thompson may be reached by calling (614) 644-8728, emailing District93@ohr.state.oh.us, or writing to State Rep. Andy Thompson, 77 South High Street, Columbus, Ohio.