Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Advocate Explains the State Budget

Bill Faith Reports to CAHA

Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio attended the April Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance to give advocates and housing developers an update on the thinking down around housing and poverty issues in Columbus. Faith is the leading lobbyist for housing programs and maintaining state support for anti-poverty programs in Ohio.

Faith talked a great deal about the change in tone and atmosphere since November and the election of John Kasich as governor. He talked about the strange day two days after the election when the Governor elect gathered 150 lobbyists and told them that they needed to get on the bus or be run over by it. Kasich told those gathered that two presidents (Clinton and Obama) and millions of dollars could not stop him so what makes these lobbyist feel that they could stop him? It seemed as though the new Governor is unwilling to tolerate dissension or differing opinions.

Faith described in detail many of the decisions that were made down in Columbus to generate the new budget. Kasich could have closed $3.7 billion in tax loopholes to close the budget deficit, but decided against this path. Faith specifically mentioned the corporate jet tax break that could have been closed, but was left intact. There were sales tax loopholes that would have closed $4.8 billion, but that was left in place. The promises made to communities when business taxes were changed in 2005 are no longer relevant, which hurts local government. There are many structural problems within the budget that push a huge burden onto the local communities. The new Governor was opposed to any change on the revenue side of the balance sheet, and focused entirely on the expense side.

Faith mentioned the three biggest losers in the upcoming budget:
  1. Local and County governments including libraries.
  2. K-12 education throughout the state are big losers.
  3. And Higher education takes a big hit.
Others that would be hurt by passage of the Kasich budget include the community health centers, the Consumer’s Council, and nursing homes. One of the surprising aspects of Faith’s presentation is that other health and human services programs are not harmed as badly as was anticipated in the budget. Kasich made a commitment not harm the most vulnerable, and so homeless, mentally ill, developmentally disabled are not harmed in the budget anymore than the cuts taken by every organization across the board. How young children and the huge cut to public education are not considered a vulnerable population was not explained.

There was a lot of discussion about the privatizing of the Department of Development. It looks at this point that the economic development activities will be pulled out of the department and transferred to the private JobsOhio agency. The existing agency will then be changed to the Department of Community Development and will continue to administer block grant funds, heating assistance, weatherization, the community action funding, the housing trust fund, and the shelter grant. Faith discussed the threats to the State Housing Trust fund including the unwillingness by some County recorders to send the tax dollars collected onto the state to distribute.

Faith touched briefly on the upcoming HUD budget. Since the 2011 budget had not been finalized and the House had not introduced a budget framework for 2012, there was very little information available. One positive coming out of the federal government was the new funding and attention being paid to housing within the health care community. Faith talked about waivers being sought with the Medicare program to pay for housing. It is increasingly clear that a person’s health care suffers if they do not have a stable place to live, and communities around the country are beginning to factor housing into health care plans.

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