In Birmingham they love the govnah, boo, boo, boo;
Now, we all did what we could do;
Now, Watergate does not bother me;
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth.


– Edward King, Gary Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant, “Sweet Home Alabama”

At this time last year, Ohio Governor John Kasich thought that they loved the govnah in Columbus and across the great Buckeye State. In fact, as a 2016 Republican candidate for president of these United States, Kasich painted a most rosy picture of Ohio’s economy – as it appeared to him. Perhaps in a dream.

But this ain’t Birmingham.

As Kasich puts the finishing touches on his 2017 State of the State traveling road show address this week, reasonable minds will see and hear a quite different outlook for Ohio’s working families.

What was all well and good in 2016 – thanks to the youthful congressman who became governor and wanted to be president – isn’t quite so in 2016.

In fact, reality has set in – as it always does.

Randy Ludlow writes in The Columbus Dispatch that Kasich “might point out again that these are ‘lean times’ when he delivers his State of the State address on Tuesday. Amid a downturn in anticipated tax collections, there’s not enough money coming in to finance frills in the ‘tight’ state budget, the second-term Republican has said.”

That’s sweet. That’s sweeter than a pumpkin festival in Circleville or a banana split festival in Wilmington.

How, pray tell, did Ohio suddenly stumble upon these “lean times” when, just a few months ago, the govnah was telling the nation and the world that this was the land of milk and honey as he endeavored to garner his party’s nomination for the presidency? Where did he go wrong? Was he misleading the American voters in 2016 or did the wheels simply fall off in Ohio on New Year’s Day?

By the way, as Ludlow reports, “job growth in Ohio last year fell to its lowest point since 2010 – the year before Kasich took office – with 38,500 jobs created, or about half of the 77,300 jobs the state gained in 2015.”

Maybe I missed it, but did Kasich point this out last year while he was traveling the nation on a POTUS bid? Of course not.

In a February 2017 report in the Toledo Blade entitled “Local governments told to open books,” Jim Provance writes that “Gov. Kasich jealously has guarded against any attempt to tap into the state’s $2 billion budgetary reserves, but he has criticized local governments and school districts that sit on their own surpluses. He continues to push for tax cuts at the state level while questioning whether local governments and school districts have taken full advantage of their own taxing authority before complaining about the amount of money sent from Columbus.”

Highland County Commission President Shane Wilkin acknowledged as much at last week’s commissioners’ meeting.

"The state has found a way to cover its (budget) shortfall, but we are being encouraged to do without," Wilkin said. "It looks like a one-time payment (to recoup an $800,000-plus budget loss) is going to be subject to your (a given county's) ability to add a tax."

Commissioners Wilkin, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton are concerned (understandably) to the degree that they passed a resolution last week urging the Ohio General Assembly to “take immediate action against the potential loss of approximately $1,230,000 of sales-tax revenues associated with the Medicaid MCO sales tax by adopting an equitable solution that addresses the funding needs of the state and counties on a continuing basis.”

Moreover, the loss of sales tax on MCOs (Managed Care Organizations) is in addition to earlier cuts by the state in local government funding which, contrary to popular myth in the Statehouse and governor’s office, have not been offset by tax revenues on casinos, according to the county auditor’s numbers.

"We would lose 12.4 percent of our tax revenues if the Legislature doesn't act," Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley said of the MCO tax dollars.

Tell it to the Republican governor. He feels your pain. Or not.

In a speech to the Ohio Newspaper Association, as reported by Provance in The Blade, “Kasich noted that Congress eliminated revenue sharing with the states, equating that to the state’s continuing Local Government Fund that provides a slice of the state’s tax revenue collections to local entities.

“‘If the politicians in Washington can eliminate revenue sharing, what is this whole thing every time I turn around about the Local Government Fund?’” Kasich asked. “‘I want you to look at the surpluses these small communities who complain have. Ask them to open their books, and then take an accountant in so you understand exactly what’s going on.’”

According to The Blade, Kasich said the same thing about public school districts. “Go check their cash balances. See what they have in their cash balances. Go and see how it really works. See how they’re managing the school.” (See http://www.toledoblade.com/State/2017/02/27/Local-governments-told-to-open-books-Kasich-says-communities-schools-should-use-own-surpluses.html.)

In other words, Kasich is alleging that local schools and governments have plenty of cash. If so, there should be no new taxes, at least by the governor’s logic. Let’s hope he’s right.

Meanwhile, local officials across the state – particularly county commissioners and township trustees – can expect little help in the next state budget, which takes effect July 1. What they can expect is for the governor to lecture them on adding local taxes and for spending any reserve funds on hand for continuing government services and feeding the three-headed monster known as SWB (salaries, wages and benefits) where roughly 3/4 of the money goes.

Should be a great State of the State speech. Listen carefully to phrases like “tough economic times” and “more local investment (i.e. higher taxes),” concluding with “the State of the State is strong and vote for me in 2020.”

* * *

Overdoses a disturbing trend

On March 31, The Highland County Press interviewed Branden Jackman, public information officer for the Paint Creek Joint Fire/EMS District.

The news wasn’t good. In fact, it was rather disturbing. Highland County is seeing a significant increase in drug overdose cases this year.

Jackman told us that the district has seen 41 overdose cases in the month of March alone, with the number of cases in 2017 jumping by nearly 70 cases compared to the same time-frame last year. The highest number of overdoses appear to be in the Greenfield area and near the Highland/Ross County border, Jackman said.

We were told of four additional drug overdoses in the county over this past weekend.

Comparing this year’s statistics to last year’s, the 41 overdoses in March are higher than both last March’s total and the number of cases seen in the first quarter of 2016.

In February, the Fayette and Ross County sheriff’s offices each issued a “drug overdose alert,” with Fayette County seeing 30 overdoses and six deaths believed to be related to drug overdoses in a 10-day period. Ross County had 17 overdoses in two days.

“This week has been bad, and the month of March has been really bad,” Jackman said. “It’s taxing. It’s not only taxing on the crews, but from a resource standpoint. We typically order EMS supplies on a regular basis, but we’ve had to make special orders for Narcan.”

(Narcan, or naloxone, is a prescription medicine used for the treatment of an opioid emergency.)

Last June, Highland County Coroner Dr. Jeff Beery met with county commissioners and requested additional appropriations in his budget. Dr. Beery said the additional funds were needed due to the increase in overdoses and required autopsies in criminal drug-related court cases.

At that time, there had been 11 fatal drug overdoses and 47 coroner's cases in the county. In less than six months of 2016, Dr. Beery's office had surpassed its 2015 caseload.

In March of this year, Dr. Beery released his report of coroner’s cases for 2016. Beery said this was the largest number of cases he’s seen in a calendar year.

“This is a record,” Beery said. “This isn’t counting natural causes. Last year was the second-most, with 41 cases in 2015, 29 in 2014 and 30 in 2013.”

The causes of death included 16 overdoses. (Obviously, those asinine signs at the city limits of the county seat are not working.)

Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins said at the June 2016 commission meeting: “In many of the fatalities, the user thinks he or she is injecting heroin when it's really fentanyl, a synthetic opiate painkiller that is much stronger than morphine or heroin. It is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30 times stronger than heroin.”

"This is killing people on a regular basis," former Commissioner Tom Horst said.

Dr. Beery mentioned last summer about publishing the cause of death in these cases. While that is an idea, perhaps publishing the exact locations of all known illegal drug uses and transactions might do even more to address the problem. It’s a thought for law enforcement.

“This stuff is deadly,” Jackman said last week. “We’re starting to see fentanyl in more products, not just cut into the heroin. There have been reports of fentanyl winding up in marijuana, in cocaine. People who don’t even do opiates are overdosing.”

Jackman urged the community to be aware of the dangers of the drugs entering this area and to seek help.

“More than anything, we want these people to know there’s help out there,” Jackman said. “We’ll continue to do what we have to do, but we’d rather not have to.”

For those in need of assistance, call the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services at 1-877-275-6364 or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

This alarming trend must stop. Soon.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.