ST. MARYS — State Rep. Robert Sprague spoke about the progress that has been made by the legislature Thursday night as the keynote speaker at the Auglaize County Republican Party fall rally.
When Sprague arrived in office in February, the state was facing an $8 billion budget deficit. He noted that 40 percent of the budget goes toward education and 33 percent toward Medicaid.
“Two programs that are absolutely critical to our state make up 73 percent of the budget,” Sprague said.
The prison system, he said, takes the next largest slice of the budget.
“By the time you add the prison system and Medicaid and our school system, you’ve comprised over 85 percent of the state budget,” Sprague said.
Sprague praised Gov. John Kasich for the work his administration has done.
“Luckily we have a fantastic governor that has some very smart people on his staff that have been working on this problem for almost a year and a half,” he said. “The solutions that they came up with, along with the leadership of the general assembly — they came up with an agenda of reform.”
The agenda aims to make the government work more efficiently, Sprague said.
“We’re going to change the system of government in the state of Ohio,” Sprague said of the agenda.
“We’re going to make it work more efficient, we’re going to make it work better, and we’re going to be able to deliver these services with a different model that’s a lower cost. That is the reform agenda that you have been seeing out of Columbus.”
Sprague noted that the changes started by using the performance division of the state auditor to examine state bureaucracies for things to cut. Sprague said the business regulations were also examined.
“Ohio is losing jobs because the businesses are uncompetitive and the business environment here is uncompetitive compared to other states,” he said.
The Common Sense Business Initiative was created, he said, to review the costs and benefits of the business regulations. He noted that legislatures next examined the Department of Development and created JobsOhio.
“The governor said we’re going to strip all the deal-making functions out of the Department of Development and we’re going to place them in a separate entity called JobsOhio,” Sprague said. “Then we’re going to fund Jobs Ohio with the money they need to be able to attract companies back to Ohio. Furthermore, we’re going to get some of the smartest executives in the state to serve on this board.”
Sprague noted that the changes have aided in returning Wendy’s to Ohio and keeping American Greetings and Bob Evans in Ohio when both companies were considering a move.
“We’ve jumped 11 spots in the most recent CNBC Business Poll,” Sprague said. “We’ve jumped 11 states in seven months in terms of our business climate under this governor and under the Republican-led General Assembly.”
Sprague also addressed Issue II.
“To me, Issue II boils down to a few things,” he said. “First of all, our tax base and our taxpayers — our citizens — have pretty much reached the capacity at which they’re able to pay taxes. We’re one of the highest taxed states in the union.”
Sprague said that because citizens cannot be taxed more, the issue is about “the affordability of the government.” The second concern in Issue II, he said, is about control of the republic.
“In our republic, the people are sovereign,” Sprague said. “You elect representatives and you send them down to do a job … When you elect them, you expect them to follow through and you expect them to represent your interest, but that’s nearly impossible with the current bargaining laws that are in place in the state of Ohio for public employee unions. The taxpayers do not have control over their local governments under these laws.”
Sprague stressed that he believed the control is heavily skewed toward unions. He noted that the bargaining agreements with public employee unions directly affect the tax rate.
“If you want your officials that you elect to be able to control the tax rate and control their budgets, then you have to support the reforms in Issue II,” Sprague said.
Sprague acknowledged that teachers are intimidated by the issue but said that everyone knows who the good teachers are in schools and which teachers are not pulling their weight.
“If everybody knows, certainly there’s a fair way to evaluate that over a period time,” he said.
Sprague also urged those in attendance to think about Issue III.
“Remember the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “It says those rights not enumerated in the Constitution are reserved for the states and the people … It’s a slippery slope once you give the federal government the power to command you to buy something.”