Cera shares ideas at town hall


MARTINS FERRY — Ohio’s budget, revenue shortfalls, loss of funding to local communities, infrastructure improvement and energy policy were among topics that highlighted a town hall meeting Monday in Martins Ferry with state Rep. Jack Cera.

Cera, D-Bellaire, led the discussion and shared ideas and solutions with approximately 20 residents and local officials during the event, hosted by the Martins Ferry Elks Lodge 231.

Cera led off by talking about the state’s new two-year budget, which was passed by the House on May 2 and is now being debated in the Senate.

“The Senate will have the bill until middle to late June, depending on how things are going. We won’t like what they do in the Senate, so we will reject that when it comes back to the House,” Cera said.

“That means it will go to what is called a conference committee, which is made up of three members from each chamber — two from the majority and one from the minority. … I will be on the conference committee since I am the ranking member of the finance committee.”

Cera said he is most concerned with the budget being balanced, as mandated by Ohio’s constitution, and said the policies of the Republican majority have not created jobs and have made it more difficult for East Ohio communities because cuts in personal income tax have forced legislators to raise revenue by increasing consumption taxes that impact working-class families. Cera talked about cuts to local government funding sources, which have forced officials to ask for more money from residents through levies, service fees or raising utility rates.

“To even recoup the amount of money (local governments) have lost, you can’t put enough millage on. This is what I can’t seem to get through to my friend, (Gov. John Kasich), who seems to think that it’s only like a 3- or 4-percent cut,” Cera said. “No, come down to eastern Ohio, where it’s been a 40-percent cut in many places. The Republican policy has been to drive down income tax at the expense of other taxes being raised, which mainly benefits the wealthy. Ohio was once known as a low property tax state. Now, we are in the top 10. And we are trailing the national average in job creation, and the jobs being created are low-paying.”

Cera said revenue is consistently coming in below estimates, both in personal income and sales taxes. He is calling for an “open dialogue on how to finance the things we need.”

“We have a budget problem,” Cera said. “The overall biggest problem with the budget is that it is not balanced. You either cut spending or raise more revenue. …We need to get away from some of these tax policies that have led us to where, as an economy, we’re not really growing.”

Cera addressed his efforts to bring oil and gas severance tax revenue to the counties in East Ohio where the resource is produced. The House Ways and Means Committee will hold hearings today on House Bill 105, which would return millions of dollars back to the area.

“I just received the fiscal statement, a local impact document. … If this bill would pass, it would immediately bring in $38 million to the counties where there is oil and gas,” Cera said. “And at this point, it would bring in roughly $25 (million) or $26 million every year, depending on what production is. If production keeps going up, it would be even larger.”

Cera said the money would be used for infrastructure improvements and local government funding in those counties. He noted infrastructure improvement is needed to attract and create jobs, and said he believes that mandates for upgrades in local water and sewer systems by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. EPA should be backed up with funding.

Energy policy was addressed by several in attendance, and Cera called deregulation in the electricity industry “a big problem.” He said deregulation has not brought rates down, and has made it less attractive for new power companies to build in the area because costs are no longer fixed for long periods of time, making it more difficult for those companies to plan and to recoup costs.

Cera added that renewable energy has its place, but no longer should be subsidized.

“I am optimistic about gas-fired power plants, but we still need to keep the coal-fired plants. This has the ability to attract manufacturing,” Cera said. “And the cracker plant can lead to more activity on this side of the state.”

A question was raised regarding how East Ohio counties can take advantage of state public lands and parks for oil and gas leasing. Cera said that in 2011 the General Assembly passed a bill that allows for leasing within parks, but that Kasich has not appointed board members to the committee created by that law.

“The governor never appointed members to the board, so that money is not coming here. The governor is basically violating the law by not appointing to the board,” Cera said. “It’s in the budget bill this year. … Let the speaker of the House and president of the Senate appoint the majority of the board, and let the governor still have an appointment, but make it enough to have a quorum so you can start leasing property.”

The event was organized by Martins Ferry Councilman and past Elks Lodge Exalted Ruler Rick Rodgers and current Exalted Ruler Ken Bonnell. Plans were initiated by Martins Ferry resident Richard Hord.

“I try to do something like this every year because I think it’s important for citizens to find out what our state representative is doing,” Hord said.