Although I live in a very Republican area and the candidates for whom I have voted have almost never won, I have almost never failed to vote. And I have never voted against a school levy—or for that matter a levy to support city or county parks or other civic improvements.
But I did not vote yesterday because if I had voted, I would have voted against several school levies, a parks levy, and several other levies meant to cover shortfalls in the city and county budgets.
I would have voted against all of those levies because the shortfalls that they are covering have been created by dramatic reductions in the state allocations to local governments and school districts.
Over the last biennial budget, state funding for local governments in Ohio was initially cut 75%, an unsustainable reduction given that many local governments had relied on the state for 60% of their revenue. So the cuts have been mitigated somewhat in subsequent amendments to the budget–for the most part, not repealed but simply spread out over the next biennial budget. Funding for school districts was cut 18%–10.5% in the first year and 7.5% in the second. (It is not a coincidence that the Kasich administration’s first biennial budget was passed in conjunction with Senate Bill 5. That bill would have gutted the union rights of public employees, while the budget decimated the membership of the teachers’ unions–largely OEA- and OFT-affiliated–and AFSCME.)
These cuts were, however, supposedly necessitated by a much-advertised $8 billion to $10 billion shortfall at the state level, which over the course of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign and the first six months of Governor Kasich’s first term somehow shrank to a $1 billion to $2 billion shortfall.
But, even so, the numbers still never did add up. Despite the public hand-wringing over the billions of dollars in supposed shortfalls, Governor Kasich’s first biennial budget was $2 billion higher than Governor Strickland’s final budget. So claims were made that Governor Strickland had plugged budget gaps with federal stimulus dollars that would no longer be available, though Governor Strickland’s staff made a convincing case that they had already accounted for the loss of those stimulus dollars and that the final budget year in Governor Strickland’s term, ending in June 2012, would actually show a surplus, not a deficit. And, although the news went almost completely unreported, there was, indeed, a surplus of more than $900 million in June 2012, when the fiscal bookkeeping on the Strickland administration’s final budget was finally closed.
So where did the revenue go that was not needed to cover a massive deficit and was no longer allocated to local governments or school districts?
A large portion of it covered the elimination of state taxes on estates (somewhere between $3.5 billion and $4 billion over the biennium), a graduated reduction in income taxes for the wealthiest 10% of Ohioans (another $1 billion to $1.5 billion over the biennium), and the elimination of a group of taxes on utility and energy companies operating in Ohio (another $750 million to $1 billion).
Even so, if I were living in a largely Democratic area, I would still have voted today for the half-dozen school and other local levies, even though those levies, taken together, would represent a very substantial increase in the taxes I am paying.
But, given that I live in one of the most Republican areas of the state, it seems to me that the majority of the electorate who voted for Governor Kasich and every other Republican on the ballot should have to live with the draconian cuts in local revenue created to serve a very partisan political agenda and the skewed ideological priorities reflected in the state budget.
That is, I am no longer willing to subsidize their political delusions that cuts in state allocations affect only freeloaders, that budgets can be balanced despite large tax cuts—even during a severe recession, and that continued tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and for corporations are to everyone’s benefit.
But, rather than voting against the levies, I did not vote simply because I could not bring myself to cast a ballot that will make things even more difficult for the students and teachers in our revenue-strapped school district.
I value my voting rights too much, however, to make a habit of not voting. So, sooner rather than later I am going to have to make a choice between almost equally unpalatable options.
Unfortunately, I think that there are readily available broader parallels to the conundrum that I have just confronted.
Many economically struggling Americans are voting for Republicans who support dramatic cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits, and one has to assume, I think, that those voters believe that those cuts will somehow be directed at Americans other than themselves.
Or perhaps I simply need to believe that this is the case.
Because if it is not the case, then we have reached the point at which masses of voters have somehow become very determined to vote against their own very fundamental self-interest.
And I will not believe that such a thing is possible unless and until the cuts go into effect and everyone most affected by the cuts quietly and stoically accedes to them.
And if that ever occurs, I guess that I will have to decide then whether it is a demonstration of selfless sacrifice for the national good or of unprecedented stupidity. (I’m guessing that it is clear which way I am already leaning.)