Budget invests in key priorities

The state’s two-year operating budget was recently signed into law.

We have created a balanced, sustainable budget that invests in Ohio’s top priorities, while making the tax rate more competitive and putting hard-earned money back in the hands of those who earned it.

Education. Making significant investments in young Ohioans, the budget plan improves the state’s K-12 funding formula, which expands state support for rural school districts, while reducing the number of hours and tests required through state assessments.

The budget also increases funding support for early childhood education opportunities for low-income families and provides new support for preschool special education.

Historic changes through the budget make college more affordable for all Ohioans. The state is freezing tuition at all public institutions, while partnering with colleges and universities to reduce student costs by 5 percent.

Rehabilitation and corrections. As chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Corrections, I listened to testimony from agencies, interested parties and concerned Ohioans about ways to improve the state’s prisons and rehabilitation programs. The subcommittee, based on information received during testimony, made recommendations to the Senate Finance Committee to incorporate into the larger budget bill.

During testimony, Director Gary Mohr of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections explained that Ohio’s recidivism rate is 27 percent, versus 49 percent nationally. This difference equates to nearly 4,300 fewer returning inmates each year and reduced cost for the state.

Director Mohr credits this success to his staff and the new innovative programs. Despite progress, Ohio’s prison population is at 50,200 inmates with a record-high female population due to the state’s opioid and heroin epidemic. Experts predict that this number will increase in the future.

With violent crime rates at a 45-year low, experts recommend new community correction programs which are twice as effective for the rehabilitation of low-risk, non-violent offenders to lower cost and decrease occupancy in state corrections facilities.

Director Tracy Plouck of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services testified before the committee addressing the rampant addiction crisis within the state’s prison system.

Eighty percent of the prison population have a history of substance abuse or addiction. The State of Ohio has the capacity to provide treatment for only 4,500 of the 30,000 inmates in need of drug rehabilitation services beyond the time of incarceration. Studies show an 11-percent drop in recidivism for offenders who received at-home drug treatment services after their release.

Juvenile corrections. Testimony from Department of Youth Services Director Harvey Reed stated he is able to fully operate the three statewide facilities under his supervision at 93 percent funding of last biennium. Requests for reductions in state agency funding are virtually unheard of.

Due to its shifting methods and philosophies, public opinion favors less costly alternatives for low-level juvenile offenders, resulting in lower numbers in the DYS facilities. This reduction is an encouraging sign of improvement for all Ohioans. There are currently 500 youth in facilities and additional 400 on parole, the lowest averages in five years.

Natural resources. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources continues to provide excellent services that protect our environment and responsibly manage Ohio’s abundant natural resources. With only slight funding increases, ODNR continues be a leader in its stewardship of taxpayer funds.

Support for local communities. Restored funding for the Southern Ohio Agricultural and Community Development Foundation will help provide rural communities with economic and educational development opportunities. The budget also allocates $4.7 million to support eligible construction projects for county fair grounds through a grant program that will be administered through the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

I am proud of this budget, which invests in worthwhile priorities and allows hard-working Ohioans to keep more of their hard-earned money. If I can be of assistance, please contact my office by phone at 614-466-8082 or by email at uecker@ohiosenate.gov.

State Sen. Joe Uecker represents the 14th District in the Ohio Senate, which encompasses all of Adams, Brown, Clermont, and Scioto counties as well as a portion of Lawrence County.