Rep. Cera Conducts Town Hall Meeting in Martins Ferry

State Rep. Jack Cera spoke about the state of legislation in Columbus and its impact on local level at Monday night’s town hall meeting.

Cera’s talk focused on the budget, the tax policy and tax shifting, noting the shift was not only from the wealthy to working families, homeowners and farmers, but from the state to the locals.

“This budget was over $61 billion, the largest general fund budget in the history of Ohio, yet the state has not restored funding to local governments and to school districts,” he said, with the result a local increase in income tax.

He added that in 1991 residential and agricultural property owners paid 47 percent of the cost of school districts. In 2011 they paid 71 percent.

“This is in direct opposition of what the Supreme Court said we should be doing for school districts,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state raised the sales tax and other taxes.

Another issue was the severance tax. Cera pointed out the proposal that came through the House was of little help to Eastern Ohio, with only 17.5 percent. He called the bill a missed opportunity to rebuild the area.

“This is an opportunity for us to rebuild our part of the state. To rebuild our infrastructure,” he said. “It just shows they’ve forgotten about us again by offering us a measly 17.5 percent.”

He noted that numerous local leaders and business leaders had testified to the importance of the tax.

Cera also spoke about House Bill 506, which would address new EPA carbon rules and give the state more flexibility in meeting the requirements and to protect jobs and the coal industry. The legislation passed the House unanimously. Cera speculated that many of the rules would be tied up in court before taking affect.

“The key to the coal industry and the issue I think that we have to deal with is the overall larger issue of where we’re going to generate our power and how we’re going to generate our power. Ohio when we deregulated generation, it basically led to utility companies aren’t going to invest in new generation facilities in Ohio because they won’t be able to recoup the cost from ratepayers, they’d have to go to their shareholders,” he said, adding that they would look to regulated states to do their business.

Afterward, Cera answered questions from guests.

City Councilman Bruce Shrodes noted the loss of mining jobs, steel industry and jobs from the power plant, cuts to the budget from the state level, and the struggle to comply with EPA regulations and mandated upgrades.

“We are hurting for income,” he said.

County Auditor Andrew Sutak said the severance tax would be vital for local development.

“The state’s going to get richer from us, and we’re going to get poorer because of our infrastructure,” he said, noting the wear on the roads by large vehicles. “We need our fair share.”

Another issue is that of vertical and horizontal wells. Sutak noted that the laws were written during a time of only vertical wells, and statutes state that tax dollars will go to the wellhead location, but due to horizontal drilling the gas could have their source in a different county.

“The Legislature needs to look at that bill,” Sutak said.

Other issues were the ad valorem tax, which Sutak said should be modified to a current tax, since extraction time could mean a delay in locals receiving funding.

Cera noted the plentiful oil and gas could mean self-sufficiency for the United States. While coal remains the best base material for generating electricity, Cera also spoke about new technological innovations that could potentially lead to greater efficiency in the use of gas and other energy sources as well as cleaner and more efficient use of coal. Cera pointed out the necessity of investing in new developments.

He also pointed out the need to make it more profitable for companies to conduct business in the United States.

Commissioner Matt Coffland criticized deregulation, asking whether it created jobs in this part of the state. Cera said the results remained to be seen.