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Ohio budget pulls $35M from cities to spend on opioid crisis

Officials think the money would be better spent on local EMTs who respond to the opioid overdoses

By Jackie Borchardt

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Senate Republicans want to take $35 million slated for cities to pay for a $176.4 million budget package to fight the state’s opioid crisis, drawing criticism from Democrats and city officials.

Combined with a provision to give money to villages and townships, the budget halves the state’s local government revenue stream directed to the 614 of Ohio’s 940 municipalities that levy an income tax. Cities, counties, villages and townships were already anticipating an $89 million hit over two years because of declining state revenues.

“Again, we seem to be the slush fund for state programs or priorities the state wants to fund that they won’t want to fund through their own revenues,” Ohio Municipal League Executive Director Kent Scarrett said.

A spokesman for Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson declined to comment on the legislation Tuesday. But Jackson has been a vocal critic of proposed changes for how the state allocates local government fund money, used for repairing roads, paying police officers and maintaining other public services.

The fund was established in 1934 in a deal with local governments to create the state sales tax. When the state began collecting personal income tax in 1972, the legislature agreed to give a share to municipalities because the new state tax would make it more difficult to raise local taxes.

But Gov. John Kasich’s administration and other Republicans have said the formula is outdated and questioned whether cities, which can raise revenue through income and sales tax hikes, should get the state aid over others that can’t raise as much.

In 2011, Kasich slashed the local government fund in half to help patch an $8 billion budget hole. The fund went from 3.68 percent of the state’s general revenue fund in 2011 to 1.66 percent today.

The last state budget diverted $17 million from the city-specific funding stream to pay for statewide law enforcement office training and a state database tracking shootings involving officers. It also temporarily redirected about $24 million to townships and villages.

A House amendment to the budget would make the village and township appropriation permanent.

“When we lose revenue, that’s losing the ability to fund our front line defenses that address the people on the street now dying,” Scarrett said.

Scarett said cities need the local government money to pay for police officers and EMTs who respond to the opioid overdoses the state is trying to stop. Without that local response, he said, more people would die before getting treatment offered through the proposal.

A reported 3,050 people died in Ohio from opiate overdoses in 2015, and the 2016 death toll is expected to be even greater. In Cuyahoga County, the opiate crisis claimed 666 lives last year; officials are projecting 775 deaths this year.

Senate GOP spokesman John Fortney said the city-specific funding is a “bonus payment” that would be better spent on treatment programs for people addicted to opiates.

Specifically, the Senate plan would spend:

  • $20 million would on drug treatment for felony offenders, including medication assisted treatment
  • $12 million to establish a drug detox center in each state psychiatric hospital region
  • $2 million to reimburse coroners for toxicology reports
  • $500,000 on a pilot program helping drug-addicted babies in Montgomery County.

Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko said local governments are still coping from state cuts in 2011.

Yuko, a Richmond Heights Democrat, has proposed using money from the state’s rainy day fund to add addiction treatment beds and expand existing community anti-drug efforts.

“Local governments were already getting beaten up and now we’re going to take more away?” Yuko said. “They should not be asked to give up anything more than they’ve given up.”

Copyright 2017