Reducing government spending, discussions about how the state, county and local governments have been forced to deal with less revenue, and the growth potential of hydraulic fracturing or fracking were among the dominant topics Monday at the 17th annual Legislative Breakfast in Mentor.
The forum, moderated this year by Lake Erie College President Michael Victor, was held at Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites LaMalfa and sponsored by the Lake County Development Council.
The agency’s mission is to raise awareness of economic issues and initiate a process to address problems and opportunities impacting Lake County business conditions.
Panel members were U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Bainbridge Township; state Sen. John Eklund, R-Munson Township; state Rep. Lorraine M. Fende, D-Willowick; state Rep. Ron Young, R-Leroy Township; Lake County Commissioner Daniel P. Troy, a Willowick Democrat; and Max Blachman, a representative for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
Each panelist spoke about major issues surrounding their offices and audience members were able to ask questions.
Before LaTourette’s remarks, the congressman alerted the audience of more than 300 people that there had been shootings at Chardon High School and he asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence.
LaTourette said he plans to introduce legislation this week that would allow land banks to be established across the country, similar to a program that is in place in Cuyahoga County and one that is under development in Lake County.
“There are properties that need to be demolished,” LaTourette said. “It will hopefully not only improve neighborhoods but it will also raise the housing stock.”
As a result, tax revenues have increased in other states such as Michigan that have implemented a pilot land bank program which aims to clean up homes gutted by foreclosures and alleviate property blight, he said.
Young said the state has come a long way in 13 months as an $8 billion budget hole was filled without increasing taxes and the unemployment rate has decreased to below the national average.
“I believe we have woken a sleeping giant and I believe we’re going forward,” Young said.
Fende said the state has balanced its budget by making more than $600 million in funding cuts to local governments, plus more than $700 million in public education cuts.
“All (Gov. John Kasich) has done is force this problem on our local government leaders and our local leaders have been forced to raise taxes, ask voters to approve levies or make cuts that will compromise our safety and the safety of our children.”
Eklund said fracking is something that the state should be able to find a way to do safely and in an environmentally safe and responsible fashion.
“I refuse to believe that we cannot do that,” he said.
Troy said the county has addressed its budget situation with a progressive plan to raise the county’s sales tax rate by 0.5 percent, while reducing property taxes and stormwater management fees for communities that participate in the county’s program.
“We believe we have addressed the county’s budget responsibly,” Troy said. “By this action we have shifted the revenues from one away from property tax reliance to one based more on consumption.”
Blachman said Brown helped pass a significant piece of jobs legislation in the U.S. Senate that addressed currency manipulation by other countries.
“We want to make sure we’re not kicked around by the Chinese or any other country trying to dump goods into our country,” Blachman said. “That’s certainly something that affects American workers.”