Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Nan Whaley unveils plan for Appalachia
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley in Washington, DC discussing infrastructure. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
While Gov. Mike DeWine delivered his state of the state address, Democratic hopeful Nan Whaley was in Chillicothe laying out her vision for Appalachian Ohio. She spoke Thursday alongside Mayor Luke Feeney of Chillicothe and Athens mayor Steve Patterson.
Whaley’s plan would direct investments to the 32-county region in South and Eastern Ohio to address what she terms a 50-year deficit in funding. Her plan would emphasize improving broadband, fighting the opioid crisis, and making investments in local infrastructure and services.
The region’s needs have been well understood on both sides of the aisle for a long time. DeWine for instance called for “re-igniting the pioneer spirit” of the region during his address. He proposed a series of investments in a number of the same areas Whaley identified.
Perhaps most notable initiative in Whaley’s blueprint is a commitment to universal broadband in the region by 2028. Expanding broadband access has been a ready talking point for both parties even before the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the problem. Whaley called it an “ideal target” for recent federal funding.
“The bottom line? We need to stop talking about expanding broadband and actually get it done,” Whaley argued in her plan.
Those federal dollars come into play for investments in local infrastructure as well. Whaley promised to use funds from the bipartisan infrastructure package to support “Main Street businesses” by investing in commercial corridors around the state. DeWine made similar commitments during the state of the state speech.
But Whaley takes local support a step further by hinting at new funding streams for local governments. The state’s Local Government Fund was slashed during the Kasich administration, and that reduction in revenue has pushed local governments to rely more heavily on income taxes. That’s become increasingly precarious as remote work threatens to shuffle the tax base around Ohio.
“As more and more work can be either done remotely or in a hybrid environment, communities throughout our state will feel the impacts,” Whaley’s plan said. “We need to address the impact of these changes on the fiscal status of our communities and their ability to continue to deliver the services that Ohioans need.”
In addressing opioid addiction, Whaley acknowledged the challenge of waiting on funding from a recent court settlement, but at a policy level, she said it’s clear what works.
“A majority of individuals can successfully overcome addiction with treatment, stable housing, a job, and strong family, and community support systems,” Whaley said. “That’s what a governor can help with.”
She proposed ensuring 30-day recovery beds are available in every Appalachian county, and expanding harm reduction services like providing naloxone and needle exchange. Whaley would also advocate for making counseling and addiction services reimbursable under Medicaid.
Whaley also complains that the state is not taking advantage of available funding through the Veteran’s Administration.
“Ohio’s two state veterans’ homes — located in Georgetown (southwest Ohio) and Sandusky (northern Ohio) — only provide 750 of the 2,184 beds that are allocated to our state by the federal VA,” Whaley’s plan described. “Federal funds are available to pay for these additional beds, but Ohio is leaving this money on the table.”
She noted more than 100 veterans are currently waitlisted for beds. To make use of that funding, Whaley suggested using state funds to establish 15 small scale veterans homes with at least 1,000 new beds.
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