We recently held our first session in the Ohio Senate of the 131st General Assembly, the two-year cycle for introducing and enacting new legislation. The beginning of the new legislative session brings a flurry of activity – the consideration and passage of Ohio’s biennial budget, the introduction of new bills, and the re-introduction of some bills that were considered (but not enacted) by prior General Assemblies.
The Senate’s upcoming agenda will aim to build on the progress Ohio has made in recent years. Just four years ago, Ohio faced an estimated $8 billion budget shortfall. Our state’s savings account – known as the “rainy day fund” – had been depleted down to just 89 cents. Ohio had lost more than 350,000 jobs, and we faced a difficult and uncertain future.
In response to these challenges, the legislature and the governor worked to fix the state’s fiscal condition, improve our business climate, and get Ohioans back to work. We began by balancing the state’s budget, a difficult but necessary task that helped get the state back on track. We replenished the rainy day fund, which now holds roughly $1.5 billion, and we made significant reforms to protect the long-term stability of our public pension systems. As a result, Ohio’s credit outlook was upgraded, even as the national credit rating was falling. A study released last year showed that Ohio now ranks seventh among the 50 states for its overall fiscal condition.
It is important that Ohio is back on the path to long-term fiscal stability, but that only tells half of the story. We lost hundreds of thousands of jobs from 2007-2010. Since that time, the legislature has taken an aggressive approach toward improving our state’s business climate. We lowered taxes – repealing the job-killing death tax and cutting taxes across the board by nearly $3 billion – while trimming back on the bureaucratic red tape and regulations that harm small businesses and stifle job creation. We now have one of the most improved business climates in the nation. Ohio’s private sector employers have added more than 280,000 new jobs over the past four years. The state’s unemployment rate has fallen from 9.3% in December 2010 to 4.8% last month – well below the national average of 5.6%.
These improvements are significant, but we cannot lose focus. Ohio’s overall employment is still roughly 100,000 fewer jobs than its pre-recession level. In the upcoming General Assembly, the Ohio Senate will work to build on the progress made in recent years by considering additional tax reforms and working to make the government more efficient. We face other tough challenges: protecting Lake Erie from algal blooms like the one that made Toledo’s water supply undrinkable for several days last year, fighting the dangerous use of opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers, and ensuring that our schools have the resources and support they need to educate our children effectively.
As we begin the 131st General Assembly, I remain focused on moving Ohio forward. I value your input, and hope to hear any ideas that you may have about how to improve our great state. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have questions, concerns, or ideas about any issue facing Ohio. I can be reached by phone at 614-466-7505 or by e-mail at Obhof@OhioSenate.gov. You may also reach me by mail at State Sen. Larry Obhof, 1 Capitol Square, 2nd Floor, Columbus, OH 43215.