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Secrecy and Dysfunction in State Government Prompt Need for Reform

Lawmakers outline 5 bills to make state government more open and accountable
October 31, 2013
Democrat Newsroom

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State lawmakers recently announced the need for legislation to make state government more open and accountable. Citing recent controversial legislative maneuvers and continued reports of secrecy at JobsOhio, Democratic lawmakers say that economic growth and stability can’t happen with a dysfunctional and unaccountable state government.

“Ohio’s economic recovery has come to a grinding halt over the last year,” said State Rep. John Carney (D-Columbus). “If we are going to turn this around, we need stability to help foster economic growth and accountability to restore trust amongst Ohio taxpayers.”

In recent reports, Ohio ranks low on issues of integrity and accountability. Ohio scored well below the national average in the Better Government Association Integrity Index Report published in July of 2013.  Ohio scored a “D” in State Integrity Investigation. The Buckeye State had a near-failing grade in the Georgia PIRG, state-by-state study of spending transparency. And just last week, a new report was published, Creating Scandals Instead of Jobs, which outlined numerous problems at JobsOhio.

“Improving the independence of our government watchdogs will help to restore taxpayers’ trust that their elected officials will be held accountable for possible wrongdoing,” said State Rep. Connie Pillich (D-Montgomery). “Giving any governor the authority to handpick these key watchdogs undermines the public’s trust of their independence.”

Democratic lawmakers announced the introduction of two new bills-- the Corporate Tax Credit Disclosure Act and the Watchdog Independence Initiative. They also urged the legislature to take action on the JobsOhio Accountability Act (HB 189), another bill that would broadcast legislative committees and redistricting reform.

Rep. Nick Barborak (D-Lisbon) announced legislation to require the state to publicly disclose the value of tax incentives awarded to private companies. The bill follows a recent attempt by the DSA to stop disclosing the value of taxpayer-funded awards it gives to private companies.

“No one in Columbus should be able to arbitrarily decide to hide the amount or the value of tax dollars given away to corporations or anyone else,” said Barborak.  “This bill will put into law a requirement that makes these tax credits public and prevents anyone from ever again trying hide this information from taxpayers.” 

Lawmakers also noted that despite having a majority of votes in favor of Medicaid expansion, a small minority of extreme hardliners in the Republican caucus blocked it, forcing the measure to go through the Controlling Board. The controversial move comes just weeks after a government shutdown in Washington DC.

“The dysfunction in Ohio and Washington seem to be at an all-time high, and it is a direct result of partisan gerrymandering,” said Rep. Mike Curtin (D-Marble Cliff). “Lawmakers have stopped responding to the will of a majority of people because they only have to be accountable to a small faction of one party. The time for reform could never be greater, and the need to do it before the 2014 election is critically important.”

State Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) discussed the effort to increase government transparency and accessibility by requiring the public broadcast of all Ohio House legislative hearings. 

“Ohioans deserve consistent access to their state government,” Rep. Ramos said. “We have the equipment, we have the capability—there is no reason Ohioans shouldn’t be able to see how their legislature functions. Not everyone is able to travel to Columbus to keep an eye on their elected officials.”

Neither JobsOhio the Accountability Act nor the bill to broadcast legislative proceedings have received a committee hearing from the GOP-controlled legislature.