Bishops of Ohio speak out on state budget

Bishops Mark Hollingsworth and Thoms Breidnethal of the Dioceses of Ohio and Southern Ohio, respectively, have written an op-ed article on the state’s efforts to balance its budget.

Bearing Each Others’ Burdens

The Ohio General Assembly has until June 30 to adopt a balanced budget for State Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011. As always, this is a moral as well as a fiscal challenge. Our state budget is the social compact we make with ourselves every other year about the kind of society we are trying to create.

The real questions underlying our state budget deliberations are: How will we make possible for every Ohioan the opportunity to engage in work that makes a contribution to society and provides income sufficient to support family and household? How will we take care that no child will go to bed hungry or go to school without the preschool preparation necessary to learn and grow? How will we make available basic health care for all, and mental health services to those who need them, and support for the elderly?

At the end of April, the Ohio House passed a biennial budget proposing expenditures of about $114 billion, six billion dollars less than Governor Strickland’s Executive Budget proposal. The House budget preserved much of the Governor’s “evidence-based” education initiative, though with some major changes. It also included important, though limited, funding for human services and safety net programs such as food banks, libraries, child welfare and adult protective services, and after-school programs for children.

The Senate Finance Committee proposal, released May 30, cuts nearly $1 billion from the House version. The education initiative is removed, and substituted for it are modest .25 percent and .5 percent increases in the per-pupil funding plan over the next two years. Missing are $150 million for food stamps, cash assistance, job readiness and job training programs, and health care services delivered at the county level through Job and Family Services. Fortunately food banks and child protective services are left untouched.

It will fall to the Senate-House conference committee to resolve the discrepancy between the two versions later this month. Their work will be made no easier by revised revenue estimates that could increase the projected shortfall by as much as $1 billion to $2 billion.

The budget must by law be balanced. But it is in balancing the budget that we will decide the kind of people we are and the kind of community we want to become. Human services and programs for the poor can be reduced during these critical times only at great peril to the citizens of our state. But revenues can be increased. We urge our state government and our fellow citizens to balance our budget by raising taxes rather than cutting services to our children, and to all our sisters and brothers who need support just to get along.

We speak as persons of faith, believing that God calls us to care for those who are weakest and have no voice. But we also believe that care for “the least of these” strengthens our society immeasurably in the long run. We pray that we will have a balanced budget, and that it will be balanced on the backs of those of us who can afford to pay.

The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal, The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio

The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr., The Episcopal Diocese of Ohio

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