Matt Szollosi, state representative from the 49th House District in Ohio, said last week there needs to be greater public awareness of Gov. John Kasich’s proposed biennial budget that will have a severe impact on the Oregon City Schools District.
Szollosi spoke before a crowd of about 30 people who attended a town hall meeting on April 20 at Starr Elementary School.
“As proposed, Oregon schools are losing the equivalent of 5.9-mills worth of revenue based on the proposed budget. Personally, I don’t know how we can absorb that type of loss,” said Szollosi. “When you hear that type of revenue loss from the previous budget, it certainly is a cause for concern. I don’t think we can absorb these types of cuts.”
Szollosi noted that House Bill 66, which phased out tangible personal property taxes over five years, has had a negative impact on the school district. The bill was passed in 2005 by a Republican majority in the House and Senate, and signed into law by a Republican governor, said Szollosi, a Democrat.
A man in the audience asked Szollosi if the bill could have been overturned.
“We had majority status in the House of Representatives from 2008-2010, but the Senate was still solidly Republican at that time. I don’t see the Senate makeup changing really, anytime soon,” said Szollosi.
Szollosi said the state has failed to implement permanent changes for a balanced method of school funding after the Ohio Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1997 known as the DeRolph decision, which declared that the state’s method for funding public education was unconstitutional and directed the state to find a remedy.
The legislature in 2008 found a remedy in House Bill 1, he said. The new school funding formula, known as the Evidence Based Model, was considered a constitutional method of funding schools, said Szollosi.
“That has been eliminated already this year,” said Szollosi.
“When you have the legislative, executive branch and judiciary dominated by one particular party, I think that has an impact on the system of checks and balances that is sought by our system of government,” he said.
Szollosi said there needs to be greater awareness in the community if the funding cuts are ever going to be restored. He urged the public to contact representatives who support the funding cuts in the governor’s proposed budget.
“If representatives start getting hand written letters, e-mails, phone calls and personal visits and start feeling pressure from their districts and surrounding areas from their region, then that’s going to make an impact,” he said. “The Ohio House of Representatives, the majority, doesn’t have to dot every i and cross every t as proposed by the governor, and I hope they don’t. I hope they make some changes. I hope there is some value put on public education. Are there changes that are necessary that need to be made? Sure. Did we try to do that two years ago? Absolutely. Do we see eye to eye on all of the things between Republicans and Democrats? Of course not. But one thing we should agree fundamentally is the value of education. Not just for the purposes of our kids, but from an economic and industrial development standpoint. Businesses want to locate in areas where the public education system is strong, where the test scores are strong. You can’t refute it. The strong public education system is a very powerful draw on economic and industrial development.”
A man in the crowd asked Szollosi why government officials, including legislators, have not cut their own salaries and benefits during a time of fiscal austerity.
“That’s what I think most of us are tired of,” he said. “It’s pathetic.”
“I don’t disagree with you,” said Szollosi. Gov. Kasich, he added, raised the salaries of staff that work in his office, 20 percent more than what former Governor Ted Strickland paid his aides.
“The signal it sends when you give the chief of staff a $40,000 pay increase over what the previous chief of staff, it’s hard for people to swallow,” said Szollosi.
“I agree, but I don’t see anyone in the Senate or House willing to step up and make a change,” said the man.
Szollosi said he would get him more information on the matter later.
“State money is in short supply across the board,” said another man in the audience. “To get the money for schools, where will it come from?”
“Budgeting is prioritization,” said Szollosi. “If you have certain priorities, you find a way to work with what you got, and you got to try and find a way to get more. You have your expenditure side and revenue side when you’re working on a budget. At the end of the day, you have to come up with cuts on the expenditure side, and if you can, come up with additional revenue.”
He also said proceeds from Video Lottery Terminals, slot type machines installed in seven race tracks in the state, would help fund schools.
“The result would be about $420 million per year,” he said. “I simply can’t argue with that, and I would support it.”
Funding could also be increased if the state closed tax loopholes,” he said.
“Tax exemptions for every organization and corporation amounts to the state foregoing over $7 billion per year. I would recommend strongly that exemptions be closely scrutinized to come up with additional revenue to help balance the budget,” he said.