Tuesday, July 01, 2008

And Ohio Gets Its Due, Too

And that comes from WSJ guest commentator Chester E. Finn, who last week detailed "The Self-Inflicted Economic Death of Ohio." That bleak fate involves such symptoms and likely causes as the following observed by the astute Mr. Finn:

  • In 1990 Ohio had the 30th highest state and local tax burden in the USA. Today it is fifth highest.
  • Ohio's unemployment rate is 6.3%, well above the national rate of 5.5%
  • Of Ohio's ten largest corporations, only two have positive returns so far this year.
  • Ohio ranks 41st nationally in the number of adults with bachelor's degrees.
  • Recent surveys show that Ohio's best high school students are studying outside of Ohio and that many graduates of Ohio's universities leave the state for better employment opportunities elsewhere.

We'll go out on a speculative limb (what are blogs for?) and opine that Ohio is now suffering from a full generation of old-boy politics. The legacy of Governor James Rhodes is not one but two Ohio political parties entirely beholden to political supporters, be they favored businesses or trade unions (especially trade unions for teachers and public employees). Bob Taft was rightly blamed for his ineffective cronyism. But let's be fair. George Voinovich saw to the expansion of state government with the massive expansion of taxes, all with the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility. Further back Dick Celeste managed to pay off all the unions who got him into office. And then there was Big Jim, the Grandaddy of them all, who ran the state like a classical Roman patronage operation.

The solution is as obvious as it will be painful to those who want to live out their days as unionized government workers in a high-tax, low-wage, high-unemployment state: a state government that will champion downsizing of state government to reduce the tax burden, innovation in elementary and secondary education to improve outcomes, and restructuring of higher education to retain Ohio's brightest students and attract out-of-state talent while providing access and resources for success for the less well prepared. Those measures must be accompanied by a serious round of tax cuts and a serious set of right-to-work laws aimed at attracting businesses to Ohio.

Ted Strickland has had nearly two years to prove that he is the man to lead that government. Aside from Eric Fingerhut's moves to begin reform of higher education and an unintentionally funny campaign to advertise Ohio's business climate to decision-makers, Strickland has little to show. Content to bask in his modestly positive polls, Strickland aims to avoid mistakes by avoiding change. But it's change that Ohio obviously needs, or Ohio will be begging for change on a streetcorner.

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