Sometimes it takes an outsider to see – and be willing to voice – a problem.
Mark Partridge, the Swank Professor of Rural-Urban Policy at Ohio State, took his time to study the issue after arriving here in 2006, but one thing immediately stood out: too much government.
“We have government for government’s sake,” he said earlier this fall during the Farm Science Review.
Partridge and Jill Clark, program manager of Ohio State’s Exurban Change Project, recently released the second of the “Growth and Change” reports that examine the state’s trends. They found system-wide reasons why Ohio trails in most economic indicators.
And the biggie is government.
We have villages, townships, cities and counties, not to mention state government and quasi-governmental entities like conservancies and port authorities. We maintain separate police and fire departments, planning departments, and economic development agencies. It’s a turf and tax war of the greatest proportion – and a very expensive way to deliver services.
Good governance should promote individual wealth creation and minimize risk for business, Partridge says. Ohio’s local government is fragmented, with a local tax structure that Partridge calls “bizarre” and the root of communities competing against neighbors for jobs.
That system also facilitates low-density settlement, triggering sprawl and higher cost of government services. You want proof? Ohio’s state and local tax burden, at 12.4 percent, is the fifth highest in the U.S., Partridge says. And that high tax structure puts us at a competitive disadvantage to other states.
He voices the unpopular: Maybe Ohio’s system of county and local government needs to be revamped. Greater efficiencies in providing government services can be realized on a larger, more regional scale, reducing tax burdens.
Not every government service is efficient at the regional level, but some are, like economic development, transportation, planning, or tourism. Collaboration could better serve Ohioans than the current economic development competition that Partridge calls “fearsome and destructive.”
In the long-run, education plays a vital role in all of this, too, Partridge says. Education and workforce training improve productivity (and profitability) of businesses, and good schools attract people for quality of life. Schools, he emphasizes, are a great long-term economic development strategy.
Ohio is a great place to live and work. We’ve got abundant natural resources, a hard-working Midwestern workforce and cultural diversity. We’ve got cities and remote regions, roads and recreation. We’ve got a lot going for us, but individual strengths are no good if they’re not part of a coordinated team. And right now I’d agree our governmental teams are certainly not coordinated.
If you get the foundation right, employment and prosperity will grow.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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