With Ohio’s biennial budget process scheduled to end in June, the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), an NLIHC state coalition partner, has prioritized Governor John Kasich’s (R) proposed tax reform package, expansion of Medicaid, and revenue for the Ohio Housing Trust Fund (OHTF) as its leading legislative issues. COHHIO and its partners are hopeful their advocacy will lead to expanded programs and services that support Ohio’s lowest income people.
Included in Governor Kasich’s tax reform plan is a proposal to increase the oil and gas severance tax on high-volume horizontal wells, which would require the oil and gas industry to pay more of its fair share in taxes. The industry has contributed to population growth in eastern Ohio, as oil and gas industry employment has increased in the Utica Shale region. The resulting increase in demand for housing in this mostly rural area has forced rents higher and consequently has decreased the supply of affordable housing, especially for low-wage workers and fixed income renters. Much of the region already faced challenges to infrastructure, increased demand on social and public services, and environmental health concerns, compounding the housing affordability problems.
In March, COHHIO Executive Director and NLIHC board member Bill Faith testified before the Ohio House Ways and Means Subcommittee in support of a tax increase for the industry, but urged lawmakers to increase the rate beyond the governor’s proposal. The proposed 1% tax rate for gas would be the second lowest in the country, and the 4% rate for oil would be the sixth lowest. Mr. Faith advised lawmakers to reserve a significant portion of revenue generated from a tax increase for the affected region to address the demand for affordable housing and services.
COHHIO opposes certain parts of the governor’s tax reform plan, mainly his across-the-board income tax break for business owners and other individuals that primarily benefits wealthy Ohioans at the cost of critical state revenues. The tax cut would give middle income individuals $144 a year, compared to $7,777 for those with annual incomes of $335,000. Tax cut proponents say the change will create jobs by providing small business owners the means to hire additional staff with funds gained through the benefit. However, advocates point to a similar 2005 state tax benefit that lawmakers claimed would create jobs, but the state actually lost 236,000 jobs while the national economy added more than 1.1 million.
COHHIO joins many other organizations in backing Governor Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid coverage to adults making $15,415 or less per year (138% of poverty) as provided for under the federal Affordable Care Act. This proposal would make an additional 578,000 people eligible for coverage and help many obtain behavioral health services. The plan also would boost the state’s economy by providing $17 billion in federal funds, which would free up state and local dollars to help house people with disabilities.
Advocates are pleased with the governor’s decision to include full funding for the OHTF at $106 million in his biennial budget proposal. Given the many new House and Senate members to educate, COHHIO kicked off 2013 with updated messaging and a new trust fund campaign slogan, “The Trust is a Must.” A new campaign handout highlights the OHTF’s effectiveness OHTF in communities across the state. Since 1991, it has provided emergency shelter for 133,000 households, helped finance the construction and rehabilitation of 56,000 units, provided supportive services to 105,000 households, given homeowner counseling and assistance to 28,000 households, and trained and provided technical assistance to 45,500 households. New materials show OHTF’s ability to stretch scarce state dollars; for every $1 allocated to it, $6.23 is leveraged from other sources. The OHTF also is credited with the creation of approximately 10,000 jobs in 2009.
The Ohio House is expected to vote on the biennium budget in April. Advocates now are turning their attention to the Senate, which is expected to consider it in May and June.
“While there are provisions of Governor’s Kasich budget we disagree with, including yet another income tax cut, we are pleased to stand with him in backing such critical initiatives as expanding Medicaid coverage and full funding for the Ohio Housing Trust Fund,” Mr. Faith said. “The governor is demonstrating common sense, compassion, and courage, three things that are in short supply coming from our elected officials these days.”
For more information, contact Suzanne Gravette Acker at firstname.lastname@example.org.