Photo illustration of caregiving. From sabinevanerp (pixabay.com).
Elected officials and local advocates are calling for state budget changes that emphasize issues spotlighted during the pandemic, including economic inequality and education system flaws.
Policy recommendations were spelled out by think-tank Policy Matters Ohio and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative to change tax code and fill loopholes they say would not affect ordinary Ohioans, but would force the wealthiest groups to “pay their fair share.”
“The last time that we had a tax system in our state that resembled something like fairness and asking all Ohioans to pay their fair share, I was barely out of diapers,” said Portage County Treasurer Brad Cromes, on a Tuesday press call about the budget recommendations. “And since then, the inequality in our taxing system has only gotten worse.”
Some of the recommendations being pushed by policy groups include restoring a 7.5% income-tax rate for those making more than $218,250, a rate approved under Gov. George Voinovich in the early 1990s. A new 8.5% rate on income over $500,000 was also recommended.
Also as part of tax code changes, the organizations want to see an “LLC loophole,” or small business income deduction, reduced from $250,000 to $100,000, because they say the “loophole mostly helps increase the profits of wealthy business owners, without creating jobs or strengthening communities,” according to the budget breakdown.
Some of the most urgent needs in the budget have to do with education and minority wellness.
“Education is one of those things that really is supposed to be the launchpad to help people to truly live in our economy,” said state Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, who attended the press call to discuss legislative efforts.
Howse said the debate currently happening in the Ohio legislature over an overhaul of the state’s public school funding system — deemed unconstitutional more than two decades ago — is just one part of addressing the needs of Ohio children as they grow into adulthood.
An overarching problem in the state that impacts all aspects of the economy, education and health are racial inequities, according to the group’s budget policy.
Howse says declaring racism a public health crisis, as members of the legislature attempted to do in the last General Assembly, would be an important first step on the way to helping people of color be a part of the state’s success.
Other needs that have been met in the short term by federal pandemic relief funding will still need to be met after the pandemic is over.
Tia Ferguson is a teacher and parent in Columbus, who dealt with financial struggles while trying to raise a family and obtain her education degree. She said as she struggled during that time, she learned the value of community support for education, for the children and parents. With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting not only schools but also the employment of parents, the state budget should be tailored to support families and communities.
“If anything what this pandemic should have showed us, it’s that there’s so many people who had to leave their profession because they had to take care of their children, and so as we go forward, we need to have employers who see them as a whole person and not just as an employee,” Ferguson said.
Budget recommendations surrounding education include “sufficient” funding for school nurses, guidance counselors, social workers, art, music and gym teachers in every school, along with overall funding for K-12 students.
The budget also looks at caregivers, who include those that take care of young children, along with the elderly community.
Many caregivers are underpaid, according to Howse, and financial stability is at the heart of every struggle Ohioans have in being successful.
“Doing the work of people in caregiving, whether it’s our aged community or our babies, that is valuable work and we need to be compensating people accordingly,” Howse said.
Colleges and universities would also be included in budget changes as part of the organization’s policy proposals. Under the recommendations, funding for higher education would increase by at least $415 million, and higher ed institutions would be barred from withholding transcripts if a student has unpaid debt.
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