We are in the final days in which a compromise is possible on a new Congressional map; I remain hopeful that Democrats and Republicans in the Ohio legislature will finally come to a bi-partisan compromise. However this remains an open ended question, but there are several things I'm sure of. I am certain that Ohioans do not want two primaries, costing taxpayers $15 million or more. I am certain that Ohioans do not want to live with the continued hyper-partisan politics we see in Columbus and Washington, they want compromise. And I am certain that Ohioans want competitive districts where their voices are heard.
For all of those reasons, I am holding on to hope that we can reach a compromise. But I'm starting to worry that partisan politics will win out again, over the common sense solutions Ohioans deserve. There isn't much time, and we owe it to the people of Ohio to get this done.
Today, Dec. 7, candidates will have to file in congressional districts that do not exist. The map passed by Republicans, House Bill 319, will not take effect until Dec. 26. However, there is an effort under way to collect signatures and place this horribly gerrymandered map, which dilutes the voice of voters and splits apart communities, on the 2012 ballot. Failing to have congressional districts properly in place is a clear violation of federal law, and will open Ohio up for numerous costly legal challenges and force a court to intervene. I hope we can avoid this abdication of our legislative responsibility.
House Democrats have been in talks with the Republican majority for nearly two months. We have asked for reasonable and modest changes to the Republican map which would help create districts that are more accountable to voters. We started with their map, because we recognize that they are in the majority, and believed it to be our best chance at a compromise. Again, this was simply an effort to come to a Constitutional, fair set of districts in which Ohio voters can have more say in who represents them in Congress. Our request were simple, to turn a map that created 12 solid Republican districts and 4 solid Democrat districts into a 6-4-6 map, creating 6 Republican districts, 4 Democratic districts and 6 districts that are considered competitive thought lean Republican. Several times, we thought we were close to an agreement, but each time, the Republicans pull back from the table.
To make matters worse, back in November, House Republicans recklessly passed a bill to split the primary in two at an estimated cost of $15 million or more. Congressional and Presidential primaries will be held in June, and all others in March. This reckless bill never made sense and was passed along party lines. Bringing the two primaries back together would avoid voter confusion and wasteful spending. I could certainly think of better ways to spend $15 million. After the deep cuts to townships, cities, villages and schools, it seems the height of disrespect to waste tax payer money for nothing more than to benefit one parties' interest.
So I ask, what could $15 million buy? Here are a few items that were cut in the last budget. All could be restored with money leftover, if we've got an extra $15 million.
A. Residential State Supplement: the program was eliminated. It had previously been funded at $4.6 m annually. The RSS Program provides cash assistance and case management to aged, blind, or disabled adults who reside in approved living arrangements including group homes, adult care facilities, residential care facilities, and other facilities licensed by the departments of Mental Health and Health.
B. STEM Initiatives: the program was eliminated, previously funded at $4.5 m annually.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math programs in Ohio schools.
C. Federal Qualified Health Centers: cut by $2.2 m in Fiscal Year 2012.
This line item supports safety net health services through the provision of uncompensated care by federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). The budget provides funding of $458,688 in FY 2012, a decrease of 82.9% from FY 2011.
D. Community Medication Subsidy: cut by $995,980 in FY '12
This GRF line item is used to assist community mental health boards with the purchase of psychotropic medication for indigent persons.
There is no substantive reason we can't come to an agreement. We could resolve the differences, avoid a referendum, and save the taxpayers of Ohio $15 million. We have done everything we can to be reasonable and to suggest realistic compromises, and I truly hope that the majority will decide that good policy is more important than political games to protect their incumbents. Otherwise, I am left with one simple question.
Can they govern?
Debbie Phillips represents Ohio's 92nd District