State Rep. Michael J. Skindell discussed the state budget and other issues at a town hall in Lakewood, this week, affiliated with the Ohio Promise Tour organized by the Ohio House Democratic Caucus.
Discussing the state budget passed this year, Skindell noted that these budgets are invariably a complex assortment of policies. He said that the new budget’s positive features included increased funds for county indigent defense programs, for foster care, for tutoring and counseling in schools, among other things.
State budgets also typically include a number of policy changes outside a strict definition of budgeting, and among these was a decrease in reliance on standardized test results for high school graduation requirements; “my office got many calls” from parents concerned about overemphasis on standardized testing, he said.
Skindell also noted that Ohio has never previously had a state program to sustain and improve maritime ports—unlike many other coastal and Great Lakes states—but that he introduced legislation to create such a program for the third time, this year, and it has now been signed into law as part of the state budget.
On balance, however, Skindell said that this year’s Ohio budget included more negative policies than positive. It erodes accountability for charter schools, it requires arbitrary reductions in safety and other regulations, it continues an ongoing shift of the state’s tax burden from the wealthy to middle and lower income residents.
Skindell also said that while House Bill 6 received extensive news coverage as a bailout for First Energy, the state budget also included a large benefit for the company by modifying the Significantly Excessive Earnings Test for utilities. Previously, the state’s public utilities commission required First Energy and other utilities to return funds to ratepayers who were overcharged. Now, said Skindell, this is effectively halted, and may benefit First Energy alone by more than $400 million.
As a result, Skindell opposed the final state budget.
As part of the Ohio Promise Tour, Skindell and other Democratic state representatives have promoted a five-point alternative to the trends of Ohio government under Republican majorities. Skindell outlined each of these during the town hall: