One of the questions I'm asked about most frequently is whether serving in Columbus is what I expected it to be. I can answer honestly that it has been everything I expected and more. One of the complaints about the previous two years was that the 128th General Assembly was very rarely in session and didn't accomplish a great deal. We in the 129th General Assembly have had a very aggressive schedule of meetings and have moved a substantial amount of legislation forward.
I am the primary sponsor of three bills and two resolutions, along with being a co-sponsor on a substantial number of bills and resolutions. It was an especial pleasure to be present when Governor Kasich signed Senate Bill 2, which was companion legislation to House Bill 94 (I jointly sponsored HB 94 with Representative Kristina Roegner). This bill established the "Common Sense Initiative," and it enables the CSI office to evaluate proposed legislation and regulations up for a five-year review based upon their impacts on small business and upon their compliance costs. It also creates customer service standards for the government agencies serving consumers and businesses in our state. I shepherded this bill through the Small Business and Economic Development Committee, and I participated along with Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor, Senator Jim Hughes and Rep. Roegner in testimony before the Senate. The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support.
My key objective from the inception of this House session has been to maintain focus on how we can lay the groundwork for job growth and economic development. Essential to that process was to pass a balanced budget without increasing the tax burden on Ohio's families and businesses. We accomplished that with the final passage of House Bill 153. It is, above all, a reform-minded budget that overhauls Medicaid, institutes performance pay for teachers, privatizes five state prisons (but not our local one in Caldwell), bans most abortions in public hospitals, and also eliminates the death tax effective in 2013. What's most important about the repeal of the death tax is that it will encourage more of our seniors to remain in Ohio, rather than moving to Florida or other states without such a tax. It will stop the penalizing of farm families, who often must liquidate a farm to pay the inheritance taxes. This means we will keep more of our population here, and that is important to our congressional representation. We also restored the income tax cut that Governor Strickland rescinded in the last budget cycle.
As a member of three key committees (Agriculture and Natural Resources, Education, and Small Business and Economic Development), I am well aware of the areas where Ohio can do much better. We are blessed to have tremendous natural and mineral resources, such as coal, oil and natural gas. These are the key to stable economic vitality, and each area is threatened by the heavy hand of regulation, especially from Washington. Job creation in Ohio has been thwarted by regulatory excess, high taxation, and, of course, by a workforce that is not always equipped to meet the demands of business and its ever-changing needs. Education reform (House Bill 21), incentives for investment (House Bill 58), and a thoughtful approach to regulation (Common Sense Initiative) have each been part of my first six months in Columbus.
Along with a balanced budget, we passed a bill authorizing performance audits of four key state agencies, and we also tackled legislation for election reform, protecting the unborn, and restoring second amendment rights. The 93rd House District contains many folks who have struggled economically, but who hold true to traditional principles. They expect a good return on every taxpayer dollar that is spent, because they spend their own money very carefully.
No doubt, the most controversial bill we passed this year was Senate Bill 5. Despite what you may have heard, the bill does not limit teacher pay to $37,000 per year and does not "destroy the middle class." As the husband of a school teacher and having been through a bruising campaign for the office I hold, I know that the truth is often the first casualty in some of these political debates. I encourage you to read the bill online and double-check what you've heard or may have assumed. Here are some key points you may have missed: 1) Employees are asked to pay a minimum of 15 percent of their health insurance costs. 2) Teachers are to be evaluated mainly on performance in the future, where in the past employees were rewarded merely based upon seniority and education level. 3) Local Government is projected to save 1.087 Billion dollars under this plan according to the State Employment Relations Board. 4) There will no longer be excessive vacation, endless sick leave, and government pick up of the employees' share of their pensions. It isn't fair that you have to pay for your own retirement and all of the public employees' retirement as well. 5) Public employees will continue to collectively bargain on wages and working conditions, but not on health care. These are a few of the key provisions.
There are many more positive-and less controversial-accomplishments that I will continue to report as we move through the summer. I am very grateful to have this chance to serve, to make the difficult decisions Ohio must make to move forward, and to ultimately put our state back on a firm financial path that leads to economic prosperity.
Rep. Thompson may be reached by calling (614) 644-8728, e-mailing District93@ohr.state.oh.us, or writing to State Rep. Andy Thompson, 77 South High St., Columbus, Ohio 43215.