Pandemic budget cuts could mean more in store in 2021

Last May, while the pandemic and recession sapped state revenue, Gov. Mike DeWine cut funding for education and health care. As policymakers prepare for the next budget year, a Policy Matters Ohio report shows how the cuts set a lower baseline for critical programs like education, mental health and public defense attorneys.

“Congress has yet to provide the kind of aid state and local governments need to protect the public,” said report author, Senior Project Director Wendy Patton. “That’s forcing state lawmakers to make cuts they shouldn’t have to make. However, years of cuts at the state level have left Ohio ill-prepared. State lawmakers have underfunded programs that make Ohio communities stronger and healthier in favor of tax cuts and tax breaks that benefit corporations and the wealthy few.”

In May, Gov. DeWine cut $776 million from the current 2020-21 state budget’s General Revenue Fund (GRF). Partly due to the pandemic, GRF spending came in $1.5 billion below appropriations. The cuts have established a lower baseline for 2021 appropriations. The Office of Budget and Management said spending on many public services should be held to 2020 levels. Budget cuts for FY 2021 have not been announced, but Patton confirmed at least $440 million in planned reductions: $309 million from K-12 schools, $89 million from higher education and $46 million to help counties fund public defenders. Also vulnerable are important programs that were scheduled to receive increased funding in 2021, like the programs to lower Ohio’s high infant mortality rate among Black communities.

With Congress unable to come to an agreement about the next COVID-19 aid package, Patton said it’s more important than ever for state leaders to leverage Ohio’s public revenue in ways that will support all communities.

“State policymakers have tools to help Ohioans keep the lights on, the rent paid and food on the table,” Patton said. “They can rebalance the tax code so the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share. They can stop unproductive tax giveaways. They can tap the rainy day fund. They can use different buckets of federal funds. During this unprecedented public health crisis and recession, everything must be used to help struggling families.”

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