OHIO/SOUTHERN OHIO: Bishops urge state assembly to raise taxes

June 7, 2009

In a jointly written opinion column, the state of Ohio's Episcopal bishops last week urged state officials to raise taxes rather than cut social services at a time when more than 10 percent of its citizens are unemployed.

"We urge our state government and our fellow citizens to balance our budget by raising taxes rather than cutting services to our children, and to all our sisters and brothers who need support just to get along," said Bishops Thomas E. Breidenthal and Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.

Breidenthal, of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, and Hollingsworth, of the Diocese of Ohio (which covers the northern half of the state), together represent more than 43,000 Episcopalians.

The Ohio General Assembly has until June 30 to pass a balanced budget for 2010 and 2011. The Senate passed a $53.6 billion budget June 3 and the House passed a $56 billion budget on April 29; both budgets include cuts to state programs. A joint House-Senate conference committee will hammer out the budget differences, which will likely be complicated further by a projected $1 billion to $2 billion decrease in revenue over the next two years, according to news reports.

Ohio, like Michigan, its industrial neighbor to the north, has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. The bishops say that now is not the time to cut programs that care for people in need and that the budget is a "social compact" the state makes with its residents.

"The budget must by law be balanced. But it is in balancing the budget that we will decide the kind of people we are and the kind of community we want to become. Human services and programs for the poor can be reduced during these critical times only at great peril to the citizens of our state," the bishops said.

This is not the first time the two bishops have joined forces in issuing public policy statements, said Richelle Thompson, director of communications in Southern Ohio.

The bishops chose to speak publicly about the state budget because the shortfall is higher than expected and party-line battles are being fought over what will be cut, said Martha Wright, communications officer for the Diocese of Ohio.

"Negotiations are on now and safety net programs are on the table," Wright said. "The governor (Democrat Ted Strickland) has suggested raising fees on some things and is being attacked by the opposing party for it being a tax without calling it that."