Friday, October 31st, 2014
Half-True
Ohio Democratic Party
Cuts in local government and school funding in John Kasich’s budget caused "many communities to seek school levies, local tax increases, layoffs."

Ohio Democratic Party on Sunday, June 3rd, 2012 in a news release

Ohio Democratic Party says Kasich budget forced local cuts, tax increases, layoffs

After a recent appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" in which Gov. John Kasich said he had balanced Ohio's budget and cut taxes, the Ohio Democratic Party issued a statement that his budget had negative consequences for local communities.

"Kasich slashed local government and school funding to the bone," the statement said, "causing many communities to seek school levies, local tax increases, layoffs" to offset budget cuts.

PolitiFact Ohio decided to check out the claim.

The governor's office answered with its own statement. It said the number of local government workers in Ohio has increased under Kasich after decreasing under his Democratic predecessor, Ted Strickland, and that the number of local tax issues has declined.

PolitiFact Ohio was intrigued. Kasich and other Republicans often talk about shrinking the size of government. We found he was accurate, three months ago, when he said the number of state workers in Ohio had gone down.

So it was something like a "man bites dog" story for him to boast that local government employment increased on his watch after declining under a Democratic administration.

Kasich's spokesman referred us to the employment database of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It showed that the number of local government workers in Ohio in July 2011, when the Kasich budget went into effect, was 520,600. It was 526,200 in preliminary numbers for May, the most recent number available -- an increase of 5,600 workers.

The number stood at 554,700 in July 2007, when the first Strickland budget went into effect, and 523,400 in June 2011 -- a decrease of 31,300.

The decrease continued until last January, when it reached 520,000, the lowest level since 1999. The peak of local government employment in Ohio was 560,600, reached in July 2004, according to the BLS.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols also pointed to the local election tallies on the Ohio secretary of state website. The figures show "tax issues were at the lowest levels since 2003," he said, countering the claim that Kasich's budget led to local tax increases.

We looked, though we find it difficult to draw any conclusions about local finances from a simple count of the number of tax issues on local ballots. For consistency of comparison, we looked at November general-election tallies. (There has been one November general election and one spring primary since Kasich's budget went into effect.)

What we found was a general consistency in the number of tax issues: a total of 1,009 last November; 1,059 in November 2010; 1,100 in November 2009; 1,053 in November 2008, and 995 in 2007 -- the lowest level in the years for which a local issues summary was available.

Kasich's two-year budget, signed a year ago, cut state funding for local governments by about $630 million over the two years, and cut funding for schools by about $700 million. The governor challenged local governments to be more efficient and creative to deal with the cuts without raising taxes.

Ohio Democratic Party Spokesman Jerid Kurtz cited 10 municipalities and school districts looking at layoffs and tax hikes that officials blamed on the funding cuts.

One was the city of Lima. Its finance director said it had a balanced budget as recently as 2008, but faced a $2 million deficit in its general fund, largely because of state budget cuts, despite "reducing the general fund consistently for the past 10 years," the Lima News reported.

Another was Sycamore Township, near Cincinnati. It laid off most of its firefighters in May 2012 because, township officials said, state budget cuts would eliminate half of the community's general fund revenue.

A third was the Berea school district, which passed a 3.9-mill operating levy in March 2012 after reducing its budget by $5.1 million for reasons that included the loss of state dollars.

According to the Ohio School Boards Association, school levies passed in March 2012 at an "exceptionally high" rate of 74 percent, the highest level since November 2000. The usual passage rate for school levies in Ohio is about 54 percent, the group said.

The growth in local government employment "is more likely due to the Ohio recovery that began a full year before Kasich took office," Kurtz said. "There is absolutely no proof Kasich's budget is the cause."

Seeking further perspective, we called the Ohio Municipal League, which lobbies for cities and villages. Communications director Kent Scarrett said he "certainly" agreed "there is more of an uptick in school levies" because of state funding cuts, and said the full impact has not yet been felt.

The biggest cuts in direct payments to municipalities through the Local Government Fund will come in year two of Kasich's budget in 2013. The elimination of the estate tax in 2013, which is also part of the budget, will further reduce revenue to local governments.

"They're going to be up against it next year," Scarrett said. "In 2013 the cuts are going to be much more profound. It's kind of scary."

That's looking into the future, which we won't do.

Let's get back to the statement we're checking: "Kasich slashed local government and school funding to the bone," causing many communities to seek tax increases and lay off workers.

The claim is partially accurate.

Kasich's budget did cut funding for local governments significantly. Some school districts and municipalities have sought, considered or passed tax issues to deal with budget shortfalls to which the funding cuts have contributed. And the Ohio Democrats can provide anecdotal evidence that some budget shortfalls have threatened or led to layoffs.

But the claim also overlooks important details that give the it context.

The number of local government jobs in Ohio has actually increased since Kasich's budget was enacted, after dipping to a 12-year low. And the number of local tax issues to appear on ballots across Ohio has been steady for several years.

Further, one of the outside experts we talked to says it is too soon to tell the full impact of cuts in funding because the biggest cuts through the Local Government Fund haven’t kicked in yet, nor has the elimination of the estate tax.

On the Truth-O-Meter, the claim rates Half True.