What free-market reforms should Ohioans expect next year?


By Jason Hart | Ohio Watchdog

Republicans will hold a record 65 seats in the 99-seat Ohio House next year after campaigning on a message of job growth and limited government, setting the stage for major free-market reforms.

With Gov. John Kasich re-elected and a steady 23-10 majority in the Ohio Senate, Republicans will have huge majorities in both houses of the Ohio General Assembly and a lock on the executive branch for the third consecutive legislative session. What reforms reducing the cost and scope of state government are likely to result?

Buckeye Institute policy analyst Greg Lawson

Greg Lawson, a policy analyst for the free-market Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, said in an interview with Ohio Watchdog that legislators should be working on “tax reform at all levels.” Lawson called for “fundamental tax reform” going beyond reducing the state income tax by increasing taxes elsewhere as Republicans have done in recent years.

Of Substitute House Bill 5, legislation that was rewritten from a local income tax reform package supported by state and national tax reform groups into something described as “a phony reform bill” by Americans for Tax Reform, National Taxpayers Union, and others, Lawson said, “We have expectations that the bill that will emerge from the lame duck will be perhaps a marginal improvement, but limited.”

“We need to still be talking about what can we do to deal with that, because we’re still going to be only one of 10 states with a municipal income tax,” he added. “We need a really broad conversation about how both state and local taxes interrelate to each other.”

Lawson expressed optimism the General Assembly may repeal the state’s Renewable and Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard, a package of 2008 “green energy” mandates that were frozen for two years in the previous legislative session.

In terms of labor reform, Lawson mentioned several policies the Republican-dominated Legislature should pursue.

“If we’re really going to talk about the big-ticket item for fairness to workers and for economic growth, it goes without saying that right-to-work would be probably the top item on the list. A far more difficult issue, but definitely that’s something that, I think if you’re a solid conservative, you want to see Ohio unshackle itself and just be fair to people — it really is an issue of forcing people to do something in many cases that they don’t want to do.”

Without right-to-work, Ohioans in private industry and public-sector jobs can be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Lawson said Buckeye Institute thinks right-to-work is “really important and certainly, will only grow in importance the more we look at Indiana and Michigan, which have gone right-to-work already.” He mentioned paycheck protection, which prevents taxpayer resources from being used to collect union dues, and higher thresholds for construction project “prevailing wage” laws as policies Ohio is more likely to see.

On Medicaid and the Obamacare expansion put into place by Kasich last fall, Lawson said, “We all know that Medicaid expansion’s gonna be pretty hard to unwind, and it’s gonna be pretty hard to do things if the feds don’t modify the program. It’s going to be interesting to see what can we really do to reform it within its current construct.”

“Unwinding Medicaid expansion would be a critical step, but even without that are there some things we can do on the side to try to keep less people getting on than have thus far deluged the system?”

Kasich’s Obamacare expansion has added more than 430,000 Ohioans to state Medicaid rolls since Jan. 1.

Lawson said the General Assembly may build on existing school choice programs, as state policies are “still pretty traditional school, public school-centric with teachers unions still playing a very broad role, but the more you get the money following the student the less control the unions have.”

“That’s good for good teachers because they’ll eventually be able to get paid even more, quicker, because they’ll earn it through merit pay once we finally get that going,” he explained.

All in all, Lawson indicated he expects slightly more ambitious reforms than in recent years.

“Republicans have more seats than ever and the Legislature by all intents and purposes has shifted to be slightly more conservative; a lot’s going to depend on what the governor decides to promote. He does have a pretty big role in setting the agenda, so obviously where he goes a lot of oxygen’s gonna follow that.”

Lawson acknowledged rumors Kasich could seek higher office in a campaign for president or as Chris Christie’s running mate.

“Will that influence what happens at the Statehouse? How could it not?”