There may be good reasons to vote against President Barack Obama, but fear of Ohio’s big cities stealing tax revenue from the suburbs is not one of them.
This presidential campaign has been another nasty mess and scaring the public to vote against a candidate is a common strategy both sides use.
This fear of the concept “regionalism” comes from conservative columnist Stanley Kurtz who alleges in The National Review that President Obama wants to bail out troubling cities by forcing tax sharing on the suburbs. That’s like saying Pres. Obama wants the Washington Redskins to win this Sunday’s football game. He has about as much control over that outcome as he does over whether or not regionalism takes hold in Ohio.
Regional government as a concept is passé. That’s not to say there won’t be any more city-county mergers, but they will be extremely difficult to execute and opposition most likely will be vociferous. Meanwhile, an alternative idea to reduce the cost of government is gaining traction. That idea is shared services, a voluntary collaboration between governmental entities.
First, let’s look at regional government, a concept devised to stop neighboring cities from cannibalizing each other’s tax base by stealing established businesses with tax incentives. Regional government can also pool tax revenue and resources to better attract economic growth and provide services with greater efficiency.
The operative word is “can.” Sometimes bigger is not better. The more layers between the person responsible for delivering the service and the person receiving the service, the greater chance the service will get mucked up. Suburbs do have a concern their best interests will not be served in regional government. Look no further than Toledo’s treatment of its suburbs through its past annexation efforts and more recently its heavy-handed approach to delivering water to the suburbs under a Democratic mayor.
Ironic then that two of the best known regional government initiatives were Republican-led. Uni-gov in Indianapolis was proposed by Republican Mayor Richard Lugar, now a U.S. senator, and refined by Republican mayors William Hudnut and Gregory Ballard. The other—the tax-sharing district centered encompassing the Minneapolis-St. Paul area—was a bi-partisan effort led by, among others, the Republican state legislature and a state senator from the Democrat-Farmer-Labor party.
While suburbanites in Ohio should be watchful about efforts to curb their autonomy, they shouldn’t live in fear of Pres. Obama swooping down and raiding their coffers. Republican Governor John Kasich has two years left in his term. His approach to reducing the cost of government is shared-services, a voluntary collaboration. This past year, the state legislature removed some of the barriers that prevent one government entity—say a township—from signing a contract for services with another public entity—say a school district.
There has been a voluntary effort on a small scale to share services. Locally, we have joint economic development zones, water and sewer districts and reciprocity agreements for emergency, fire and police services. Some school districts, such as Genoa, belong to consortiums to pool health care costs, purchase office supplies and meet power needs.
The Genoa school district is also investigating a joint fuel depot with the Village of Genoa.
A comprehensive on-line portal of information and resources to help local governments and schools implement shared service agreements has been launched. It’s called SkinnyOhio.org.
The need for shared services is dire. Due to our lackluster economy, less federal and state funds are available to support the public sector. According to Beyond Boundaries: A Shared Services Action Plan by the state’s Office of Budget and Management, public services in Ohio are provided by 3,900 bodies of local government and schools governed by more than 20,000 elected officials and employing more than 780,000 Ohioans—13 percent of the state total workforce in 2011. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated government spending in Ohio at $107.2 billion in 2009.
We must cut.
The report provides numerous ways public institutions can collaborate to get better pricing in the marketplace or reduce the workforce by sharing administration costs. The state is using a carrot-stick approach to implementing this process. It offers incentives to communities that join together to cut costs and withholds funds to those who don’t. Locally, a number of communities in Wood County—Walbridge, Rossford, Northwood and Lake Township among them—are partnering to tap into state grant money to purchase a new emergency services radio system.
This model has potential because it doesn’t threaten autonomy and it doesn’t add a layer of bureaucracy between those delivering the services and those receiving them.
Even if Pres. Obama had the notion to force tax base sharing on the suburbs, the likelihood of it happening is slim. You can sleep well tonight.