Address: 729 Sixth St., Marietta.
Occupation: State Representative, Ohio's 93rd District; Co-Publisher, Bird Watcher's Digest.
Past Offices Held: Marietta City Council At Large, 2006-2010; State Representative, 2011-Present.
1. Ohio has had some success in regaining jobs in the wake of the recession, but the unemployment rate remains over 7 percent. What specifically will you do to help create jobs in the state?
Unemployment is down to 7 percent in Ohio, well below the national rate. That is due to the General Assembly's success at balancing our budget, restoring the Rainy Day Fund from 89 cents when we took office to more than $500 million today. Our credit rating as a state has been raised twice. JobsOhio is doing a good job of encouraging additional investment in Ohio. I regularly hear from oil and gas companies, pipeline companies and even trucking and other related industries about their plans for expansion. We need to make sure that the economic boom coming to Eastern Ohio is supported and that the economic base is broadened. I have proposed partnering with oil and gas companies and pipeline companies to put more fiber in the ground to improve our broadband and telecommunications capabilities. This will help small businesses, farm families and our volunteer fire departments in a big way. Also, there is demand for a trained workforce that is not readily available. We are reforming the way we do workforce development. I helped in acquiring funding to expand Zane State's presence in Guernsey County. They are a role model in training workers for the oil and gas industry. Likewise, Washington State and Belmont College are expanding their training programs to meet these needs. Pioneer Pipe is just one of the local companies playing a strategic partner role. And, of course, Marietta College is a hub for training highly skilled engineers and geologists. This array of educational institutions is laying the groundwork for a workforce that will be attractive to future investors and our existing employers. Ultimately, as a state legislator, I need to ensure there are no obstacles to economic growth. That means reasonable regulations, and tax policy that is not punitive. We are making progress in that direction.
2. Ohio is expecting a sizable budget surplus. There have been cuts to local government funding in recent years, from schools to cities and counties and many would like to see that money go to them. Should any of the surplus be spent and if yes, how?
Ohio has a sizeable surplus, but also faces looming threats. Under Obamacare, our costs associated with new Medicaid enrollees would soar $300 million in the first year of implementation; it would cost $900 million the second year. That blows a hole in any projected surpluses. If his program is repealed, we can seek more cost-effective health care solutions, like the Health Savings Accounts offered in Indiana that have proven wildly popular and have brought down health care costs substantially. If our economic boom in Eastern Ohio materializes as we expect, that will be a tremendous boon to the state's coffers, as we would go from being a net draw on the state to a net contributor. There will be more revenue coming into local government here thanks to upticks in sales tax receipts, bed tax receipts, casino revenues, and the ability to sell water to the oil and gas companies and to lease government property for exploration. The Village of Barnesville in Belmont County just leased 1,000 acres for $6 million, with the potential to earn $8 million to $10 million per year in royalties. Our Washington County Home sits on prime acreage as well. Oil and gas companies, through Road Use Maintenance Agreements are assuming the costs of infrastructure improvements that would otherwise have to come from taxpayers. If we examine the experiences of counties like Carroll, Columbiana and Jefferson, we can get a sense of how Washington County's economic fortunes will improve, as will our state's.
3. Ohio's school-funding system has been declared unconstitutional multiple times due to its reliance on property taxes, yet a solution has remained elusive. Do you believe the situation is likely to change in the near future, and how would you propose addressing the issue?
Governor Kasich and a bipartisan panel of legislators have spent several months gathering ideas from across the state. We expect to see proposals after the first of the year. One increasing revenue stream for counties in the shale areas is the Ad Valorem Tax, which values the mineral assets in the ground. Seventy percent of those revenues will go to our local schools. Money isn't the only issue with schools, however. Some of the best funded schools in Ohio are the worst performing ones. Cleveland schools are the most notorious example of that fact. But we do need a system that's less reliant on property taxes. Passing levies is always challenging, though these do provide some measure of local control. But in the case of the Wayne National Forest, property taxes are an imperfect way to ensure a proper local share. I'm willing to examine alternatives, but I also recognize how difficult it is to find a new system that will satisfy 99 different legislators and 33 senators as well as the constituents they represent. In the meantime, we have worked to bring more accountability and real reform to education, while reducing unfunded mandates.
We have a long way to go on that score, I'll concede.