Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2009 Ohio Piglet Book

Last week, The Buckeye Institute and Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) released the 2009 Ohio Piglet Book: The Book Ohio's Government Doesn't Want You To Read.

From the press release:

Ohio budget officials project a shortfall of $7.3 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, which comes after a tough budget period in FY 2009, when Governor Ted Strickland ordered most state agencies to cut 4.75 percent from their budgets in order to backfill a $540 million deficit. As legislators consider how to make revenues meet expenditures, the 2009 Ohio Piglet Book gives concrete examples of waste for policymakers looking to trim the fat from state budgets.

* $126.5 million in FY 2009 for the Third Frontier, which is the Ohio Department of Development's (ODOD) ten-year project to expand high-tech research in Ohio slated to cost $1.6 billion when complete. Third Frontier funnels tax money to a select group of corporations. It is never a good idea for the state to be involved in picking winners and losers in the economy.
* ODOD, which is slated to receive $1.19 billion in FY 2010, distributes tax credits, loans and corporate welfare grants. Previous grants have included giving out $475,000 to open a Chuck E. Cheese in Lima, and $399,000 for construction of a Kroger in Lucas County.
* Ohio taxpayers have subsidized a variety of sports stadiums through the Cultural Facilities Commission, including: $73.35 million for the Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati; $36.8 million for Cleveland Browns Stadium; $5.5 million for the Ice Arena in Toledo; and $200,000 for the City of Avalon Minor League Stadium, among others.
* Ohio taxpayers spent $22.4 million in FY 2009 for the State Racing Commission, even though the state already collects taxes on wagers placed at Ohio tracks and distributes the money to supplement purses, promote horse breeding in the state, and undertake research on horses.

"Ohio's elected officials should always spend tax dollars effectively and efficiently," said David Hansen of the Buckeye Institute. "In times of budget deficits, it is especially important that legislators and the governor make every effort to ensure that money is spent only on those government programs which are truly needed. They have yet to make this effort in Ohio."

"The Ohio Piglet Book should be a wake up call to taxpayers and legislators that state spending is out of control. This is only the first step. The Ohio Piglet has identified the excessive spending; it is now time to get rid of it," concluded David Williams of CAGW.

The booklet goes into detail about why many of the items selected constitute 'pork' despite being called 'economic development' by elected officials.

When it comes to 'investment' by the Ohio Department of Development in the Third Frontier program, the booklet states:

In 2007, venture capitalists invested $16.9 billion in the high-tech industry in the United States. It is unclear why Ohio taxpayers need to turn over $126.5 million to supplement what these entrepreneurs are already doing.

They question the $80 million expense for expanding broadband services across the state, pointing out that:

Ohio politicians, however, think that the government needs to be involved in this effort. But 92 percent of Ohioans already have access to broadband. Among those who do not have broadband available, 49 percent say that if it were available they would not use it.

They also note that there is nothing specific in the legislation for the 'broadband initiatives' that detail how the money is to be spent. But if 92% of Ohioans already have such access and half those without it wouldn't use it if available, why does the state need to spend $80 million to reach the remaining 4%???

The book also highlights the lack of accountability in the 'corporate welfare' categories of loans and grants and opposes them, the ridiculousness of the Grape Council, and the lack of economic development outcomes despite the rhetoric when it comes to justification for sports stadiums.

Then there is this on the Ohio Arts Council:

Apparently the OAC is finding it difficult to make the argument that it should receive funding and cannot determine the value that taxpayers receive from the money it bestows on artists. The OAC decided to use some of its money to urge citizens to find such justification. Of course, the OAC puts it another way:

In early 2008 the OAC launched a new initiative called Take pART that aims to gather public value stories from citizens around Ohio. The OAC introduced the idea of public value to its constituents in 2004 as a core concept for Ohio’s arts organizations as we move into a new era for the arts. Public value is difficult to define in concrete terms. The most important thing about public value is that it is something that exists within each community - it is created by the citizens, businesses and organizations of that community. The OAC can’t define public value for the entire state or even for a particular community or organization. Our goal is to help our constituents seek out and define the public value within their own work, within their own community, and to, in turn, help reveal that public value.

There is no doubt that as constituents define the “public value” of their work there will be more pressure on policymakers to increase funding for the OAC. In fact, the OAC has even posted a webpage to “aid you in making the case for the arts in your community and beyond” since “support for the arts and cultural sector is a sound investment of public dollars.” The OAC was kind enough to provide the “resources you need to demonstrate these key points effectively to community leaders and elected officials across the state.” Or, to put it another way, tax dollars are being used to set up a website to provide resources for people to lobby legislators to spend more tax dollars for arts programs.

Of course, when you go through some of the OAC funding, you can see why they have a hard time justifying it:

* $80,834 for the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Association.
* $14,165 for experimental visual art that will “develop, design and produce digital public art through the use of photo booths. Apprentices will create photo backdrops for the booths and members of the general public will use the booths to take their photos. Photos will then be broadcast publicly at each of the partner locations including the jumbo LED screen on Cincinnati Center City Fountain Square.”
* $8,188 for the Columbus Dance Theater.
* $7,326 for the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus.
* $3,023 for the Cleveland Swingband Foundation.45
* $1,295 to Ana Garcia for an apprenticeship in breakdancing that takes place in Brooklyn, New York. The grant will fund a program where “the master and the apprentice will meet four days a week for three hours a day during two weeks in August. The master will teach new movement vocabulary and the history behind uprocking, toprocking, go-downs, footwork, freezes and power moves."

With the severe budget issues the state is facing, are these the priorities we need to fund? As the book says, "There is certainly a place for the arts in Ohio. There is just no reason for the government to find creative ways to fund them."

It comes down to priorities and the Buckeye Institute asks the hard questions in the Piglet book. I hope you'll take the time to read all 23 pages and then write your state legislators about what YOU think the priorities for funding should be.

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