GOP needs to explain Ohio economy

Akron Beacon Journal - March 16

Mike DeWine already has been beating up Ted Strickland. The Ohio attorney general who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor has warned against returning to the Strickland economy, during which the state lost roughly 400,000 jobs. At least, that is the narrative Republicans long have peddled.

Rob Portman pounded Strickland two years ago for the job losses as he won re-election to the U.S. Senate. The hitch is, the entire country suffered during the Great Recession. States led by Democratic and Republican governors faced similar declines in employment. So, the whole story hardly gets told when Republicans heap so much blame on the former governor.

Actually, in the current race for governor, Republican candidates have some explaining to do. They have their own problematic jobs numbers, and they are not due to a devastating downturn. Republicans made promises about the policies they enacted, and now the numbers aren’t what they invited Ohioans to expect.

The state recently reported the addition of 32,200 jobs in 2017. That compares to 95,000 created in 2014, 61,500 in 2015, and 45,900 in 2016. Spot the trend?

Job growth has been slowing year to year. So much so, as other newspapers recently reported, that more jobs were created in the final year of the Strickland term than in each of the past two years.

Just like Strickland?

This isn’t the narrative Republicans pitched when they started their dramatic reduction in income tax rates in 2005. They’ve slashed rates by around one-third, along with reducing the tax burden on businesses and eliminating the estate tax. They argued this would accelerate growth and job creation, though evidence and experience indicated otherwise. As Policy Matters Ohio reminded last week, the state has experienced job growth of 2.4 percent the past 12 years, while nationwide the rate has exceeded 10 percent.

That trend held for 2017 when Ohio saw a 0.6 percent gain in jobs, and the nation hit 1.5 percent.

Recall the 1990s, with income tax rates at those levels current Republicans disdain. From 1992 to 1999, the state added jobs at an average clip of 100,000 a year.

It’s not so simple? That is the point. If the ’90s were a different time, so, too, do other factors play leading roles in shaping the state economy. It matters, for instance, that Ohio is aging, that its population growth is weak, that its workforce is less educated, that it ranks 44th among the states for its “well-being,” according to an analysis conducted by Sharecare and the Gallup organization.

Those Republican reductions in taxes translate to $3 billion a year in less revenue, or fewer dollars for those things that add to the quality of life, from research at universities to ensuring affordable health care and housing to educational opportunities in poor rural schools. That is a way of asking: What would Mike DeWine do differently, an onus on Republicans because of the gap between their promises and record?

The same goes for Mary Taylor, the lieutenant governor who currently is battling DeWine for the Republican nomination.

To be sure, the Democratic candidates have a similar responsibility, their party long out of power and the state needing a fresh, inspired plan for moving forward. What the campaign doesn’t need especially from the party largely in power the past quarter century is another rendition of hollowly blaming Ted Strickland.

Akron Beacon Journal

March 16