Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Hurry Up and Wait

Nothing illustrates that phrase better than a state budget conference committee and Tuesday provided yet another example of this. A hearing that was originally scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. on Monday was re-scheduled on Sunday night to begin at 5:00 p.m.. Then at 5:00 p.m. the hearing was delayed until 6:30 p.m. and then delayed again until 7:30 p.m. (I don’t think we got started much before 8:00 p.m.). A lot of those present were expecting an all night affair and were already drinking coffee, but it soon became clear that it was not going to be an all-nighter and that we would have to wait to finish today (Tuesday, June 26). Of course that left the coffee drinkers wondering how they were going to get to sleep.

Here are a few of the items that the conferees approved last evening:

· New Taxing Districts/Student Special Services District: Authorized two or more school districts in Cuyahoga County to create a taxing district for the joint funding of special education and behavioral health services for students and their immediate families.

· Executive Medicaid Administration “to manage all Medicaid policies and functions and promote the efficient and effective delivery of health care." Under the language, the governor would appoint an executive director of the Administration to "implement the recommendations of the Ohio Medicaid Administrative Study Council, except its recommendation for the creation of a separate Medicaid department."

· Approved Senate language related to the creation of a unified long-term care budget workgroup, but they removed minority leader appointment authority for the workgroup.

· The committee moved Senate language on the child and family health services line item. Chairman Matt Dolan indicated that conferees are still working on creating a separate line item for the breast and cervical cancer screening provision.

· The committee earmarked $200,000 annually in federal money within the Rehabilitation Services Commission budget for an adaptive technology initiative of the Cleveland Sight Center. The committee also accepted Senate language requiring the state auditor to complete a performance audit of RSC.

At this point the conferees have resolved all the reported differences for the following departments: Commission on African-American Males, Aging, Agriculture, Air Quality, Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, Civil Rights Commission, Commerce, Development, Environmental Protection, Expositions Commission, Health, Historical Society, Inspector General, Insurance, Judiciary/Supreme Court, Legal Rights Services, Legislative Services Commission, Lottery, Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, Natural Resources, Board of Nursing, Public Defender Commission, Public Safety, Public Utilities Commission, Rehabilitation and Corrections, Rehabilitation Services Commission, Secretary of State, and Transportation. Of course the conferees are free to go back and revisit items that they have already decided or they can amend provisions with new language.

So what’s left? More than half of the budget (at least in dollar terms) and that includes the Department of Education, Job and Family Services and the Board of Regents. Outstanding issues include access to health care coverage for all children, restoring Medicaid coverage for working parents with incomes below 100% of FPL, the homestead exemption, and of course it still isn’t clear how budget writers will make up the projected shortfall of $167 million gap identified by OBM Director Pari Sabety in budget testimony last week. There seems to be a consensus (at least among the Speaker, the Senate President and the Governor) to make up some of the shortfall with the additional $80 million in state funds given to skilled nursing facilities.

The conference committee is slated to restart later today. I’m betting on a 1:30 p.m. start time if the Senate decides to cancel their session today. If they don’t, I would predict a 3:00 p.m. starting time. At this point 144 of 325 items remain to be resolved. These include 45 items within the Department of Education, 56 items within the Department of Job and Family Services, and 26 items within the Board of Regents. Stay tuned, once the committee finishes it works and it’s approved by both chambers we will have to wait and see what the Governor is going to veto.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


U.S. Census Releases State and Local Fiscal Data

In May the U.S. Census Bureau released state and local financial data for fiscal year 2005. This is the data that most analysts use to allow meaningful comparisons of between states (in contrast to the data that comes from the Tax Foundation and other groups with an ideological bias). We will write more about the census data later this summer, but recently Federal Funds Information for States issued a brief report comparing revenue generation at the state level. I thought it might be useful to share this data now.

The U.S. Census looks at 3 broad categories of revenue: total, general and own-source. Total revenue includes any money that state and local governments collect for any purpose. The Census then subtracts revenue that is generated by quasi-private services (e.g. liquor stores, utility, insurance) to arrive at an amount of general revenue. The Census then subtracts revenue that comes from the federal government (intergovernmental revenue) to calculate the state and local government own-source revenue.

Here are some of the rankings:

· 21/50 State and Local Revenue Generate Per Capita (Below U.S. Average)
· 24/50 State and Local Government Intergovernmental Revenue Per Capita (Above U.S. Average)
· 28/50 Intergovernmental Revenue as a Percentage of State and Local General Revenue (Above U.S. Average)
· 22/50 State and Local Own-Source General Revenue Per Capita (Below U.S. Average)
· 16/50 State and Local Own-Source General Revenue as a Percent of Personal Income (Above U.S. Average)
· 39/50 Percent of State and Local Tax Collections by State Government (Below U.S. Average)

There are numerous reasons for why states rank they way they do, many of them historical. For example one of the reasons that Ohio ranks 39 out of 50 in terms of state and local tax collections by state government is that the state allows local governments to levy a larger variety of taxes than other states. If Ohio’s personal income rankings continue to fall further below national averages we will likely see our state and local own-source general revenue as a percent of personal income ranking rise higher above the national average. That’s because wealthier states can generate more revenue with relatively low tax rates. At the same time if Ohio’s population continues to drop it will drive up our per-capita rankings (e.g. less people to share the overall tax burden).


Ohio House/Senate Budget Conference To Start Today

The Ohio House/Senate Conference Committee on Am. Sub. H.B. 119 (State Budget) begins today at 1:00 p.m. in hearing room 313. The committee meeting should be relatively brief as the members will only hear testimony from the Office of Budget and Management and the Legislative Services Commission on revised revenue estimates (which fall into the category of worst kept secret because it’s already widely known that they will be lower). I have talked to both Republican and Democratic policy makers and no one seems to believe that it will be very difficult to figure out a way to balance the budget even with the lower revenue figures (of course this may have the effect of creating/increasing a structural deficit if the budget is balanced with more one-time funds).

House appointees to the conference committee include Representatives Matt Dolan, Larry Flowers and Mike Skindell. Senate appointees include Senators John Carey, Tom Niehaus and Dale Miller. As an interesting aside, it’s been awhile since half of the conference committee was made up of Northeast Ohio legislators.

The conference committee will resume on Friday at 9:30 a.m. to begin the process of accepting either the House or Senate version of various budget proposals. If past practice is any guide, the committee will begin by dealing with the easier issues (those where an agreement has already been worked out) first and the hearing on Friday may be relatively speedy.

Conferees will not return until Sunday at 3:00 p.m. This will give the conferees (along with the Speaker, the Senate President and the Governor and their respective staffs) time on Saturday and Sunday morning to work out those issues where differences remain. The conference committee session on Monday is not scheduled to start until 1:30 p.m. and the Tuesday session will begin at 9:00 a.m. The Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday sessions might feature more breaks to allow members to caucus on sticking points in the budget. But hopefully those caucus breaks won’t last for hours like have during past conference committee hearings (I still haven’t forgotten the one that lasted until 6:30 the following morning!). This time the goal seems to be to have everything wrapped up by Tuesday so that the House and Senate can proceed to ratify the conference report in their respective chambers.

The Governor continues to push the legislature to adopt his plan to provide all children with access to health care coverage and to restore Medicaid coverage for several thousand low-wage working parents whose earnings keep them below the poverty line.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Strange Bedfellow - Rep. Fessler & ACLU

I would hazard a guess that you won’t often find the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and State Rep. Diana Fessler on the same side of many issues. But the ACLU of Ohio is supporting HCR 18 which was introduced by Rep. Fessler last month. It’s a joint resolution that calls on the President and the U.S. Congress to repeal the Real ID Act of 2005. There will be sponsor testimony today (6/13/07) on the resolution before the Ohio House Infrastructure, Homeland Security & Veterans Affairs Committee at 2:30 p.m in room 114.

The federal REAL ID (Identification) Act of 2005 was signed into law on May 11, 2005. This act in effect created a national ID by requiring state IDs to meet federal requirements by May 2008. State motor vehicle departments are also required to create a national database. On March 1, 2007, after many months of delay, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security finally issued draft regulations to instruct states on how to comply with the Real ID Act of 2005. It’s projected that the total cost of implementing these new rules will rise above $23 billion.

While the ACLU objections are primarily related to privacy concerns, I've wondered about the impact of these new requirments on low-income persons who will be hard pressed to afford the increased cost of obtaining a drivers license as well as the time of work that will likely be required for multiple visits to the bureau of motor vehicles. Is anyone else following this issue?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


ODJFS Offers A Wealth of Data

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services regularly reports detailed information about Ohio Works First, Title-IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance, Disability Assistance, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and Child Care programs as part of their Public Assistance Monthly Statistics. The information is worth reviewing from time to time to get a sense of what is happening at the state and county level from a variety of perspectives.

One of the things you can track is TANF caseloads and spending at the state level. For example, the March 2007 OWF combined caseload is 7% smaller than a year earlier and that TANF spending in March, 2007 was 6.5 percent less than a year earlier. In the first three months of 2007 the caseload shrunk by 1,200 assistance groups and TANF spending has dropped every month through March.

It’s not just state level data that’s available. There is also a wealth of county level data available. For example Auglaize, Putnam, and Van Wert counties report in March, 2007 that they had zero adults on Ohio Works First, while Adams, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Huron, Washington, Wyandot, counties each reported having less than 10 adults on Ohio Works First.

Two of these counties, Adams and Huron counties, had estimated unemployment rates in January, 2007 of 10.3 and 10.4 percent – well above the state average of 6.2 percent. The incredibly detailed Public Children Services Association 2007 Fact Book reported that in 2004 nearly 3 out of every 10 residents of Adams County lived below 100% of poverty and that the percentage of people living in poverty has increased 63% since the beginning of the decade. The story is the same for Huron County where 1 out of every 10 residents had incomes below 100% of the poverty level and where poverty has increased by 45% since 2000. This obviously begs the question whether or not these counties are reaching those families living in poverty who aren’t able to obtain employment and likely require assistance meeting their basic needs.

Yesterday Community Solutions co-released a report with the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies on poverty in Ohio. The authors of the report stated that poverty was at the highest recorded rate since the early 1970s and that child poverty has increased dramatically since 2000 in Ohio. Later this summer the U.S. Census Bureau will release updated poverty statistics for the country, and Ohio.

I am hoping to spend some time this summer looking at Public Assistance Monthly Statistics data. I am interested in looking at the number of number of children who are living in extreme poverty and comparing that with the number of children who are receiving some type of cash assistance. I want to look at county penetration rates for Medicaid and Food Stamps and compare that with poverty rates, unemployment rates and other related data.

Of course it doesn't do much good to just moan and groan about the bad news without talking as well about how we might improve the lives of Ohioans who are struggling to just get by. I'm interested in thinking about ways to make sure Ohioans who are eligible for assistance get the assistance they need (the Benefit Bank!) or promoting the creation of a state earned income tax credit that would put more money into the hands of low-wage working Ohioans who've seen their state and local tax burden increase over the past several years. I would be interested in hearing your ideas as well, send them to jcorlett@communitysolutions.com


Can You Sing Kumbaya?

Senator Ray Miller (D-Columbus) had it right when he remarked at the brief meeting of the Ohio Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee this morning that legislators “should just join hands and sing Kumbaya.” He was referencing the fact that Republicans and Democrats alike were singing the praises of the omnibus amendment to the Senate substitute version of H.B. 119 (the two-year state budget bill). Of course the singing may come to an end when the Office of Budget and Management and the Ohio Legislative Services Commission come to the conference committee (possibly as early as Thursday) with revised revenue estimates that nearly everyone expects to be lower (around $200 million over the biennium is the current rumor). The conferees will have a limited set of options available to them to deal with the shortfall, but hopefully the bipartisan spirit will continue and proposed increased investments in health, social services and education won’t end up cut out on the conference room floor.

It should be noted that the omnibus amendment actually spends very little new money; most of it consists of either earmarking existing line items, or moving money between years or line items. There are a few items in the omnibus amendment that deserve special mention and they include:

· The Health Assistance for Children with Catastrophic Illness Council is placed in temporary law, but eliminated the authority of the ODFJS Director to implement any Council recommendations without legislative approval.

· It creates the Special Education Scholarship Pilot Program for students with disabilities in grades K-12 to attend alternative public or private special education programs in fiscal years 2009 through 2014. The scholarships would be a minimum of $20,000.

· Makes changes in the behavioral health pilot program that was in the Senate substitute bill and limits the pilot to a small, medium, large, and one board consortium , and clarifies the services are for behavioral health and requires coordination with Medicaid managed care plans.

· It requires the Ohio Department of Education to submit an annual report to the General Assembly of each school district’s aggregate employee salary and benefits.

· It requires the Development Department to convene a task force to study state, regional, and local economic development incentives and to report on how to strengthen Ohio’s economy by making the incentives more effective.

· It requires that as of July 1, 2009, that county departments of JFS applications for Medicaid be submitted and store electronically.

· Requires ODJFS to contract with a third party to conduct a child care market rate survey in each even numbered year.

· It requires ODJFS and ODE to develop a fiscal model that joins and early care and education programs under one funding system.

· Transfers $318,000 from ODJFS IT account and gives it to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission IT budget

· It allows FQHCs to participate in the medical liability insurance reimbursement program, and allows the Department of Health to place two FQHCs within or adjacent to a hospital emergency department.

· Earmarks additional TANF dollars to the Alliance Early Childhood Education Pilot Project (anyone know what this is?), the Economic and Community Development Institute, Ohio Council of Urban Leagues,

· Takes $400,000 a year from the ODJFS 600-523 line item (children and family services) and transfers it to a new line item for adult protective services for a total of $500,000 a year (the Senate had already created this line and added $100,000 a year in the Senate sub bill), and specifies how counties are to create maintenance of effort to receive APS funding.

Of course there are a lot more amendments, but these are the highlights (or the lowlights). Now onto the Senate floor on Wednesday and the question is whether the Senate will also cast a unanimous vote for the budget.

Meanwhile, all together now…

Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya

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