December 17, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
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Budget issues take center stage in 70th House District GOP primary race

An Ashland educator is challenging incumbent state Rep. Dave Hall, 53, of Millersburg, for Ohio’s 70th House District seat.

Tom Lavinder, 62, the director of professional services at Ashland University and a former Ashland school board member and superintendent, faces Hall in the Republican primary on May 6.

Western Medina County is part of the district, including the western portion of Brunswick and Brunswick Hills Township, the townships of Homer, Spencer, Chatham, Litchfield, York and Liverpool, and the village of Spencer. The district also includes all of Ashland County and the northern portion of Holmes County.

Lavinder said he wants to become active in state politics.

“I think there are some areas I can bring fresh ideas and a fresh start,” he said.

One change Lavinder wants is more state tax dollars returned to cities, townships and villages.

Lavinder said cuts to “local government funds” by state leaders starting with the 2011 two-year budget have left some cities struggling to provide anything beyond basic services.

“I appreciate the need to reduce state taxes,” Lavinder said. “But if we continue to do that, we’re going to save at the state level and raise them at the local level. A tax is still a tax.”

Lavinder said he supported the work of state leaders who set aside $1.5 billion over the last budget period into a so-called “rainy day” fund. Now, he said, there should be at least $1 billion in the next two-year budget that could be set aside for other projects, including the local government funds that were cut starting in 2011.

“Now that we’ve filled that rainy day fund, we don’t have to fill it in the next budget,” Lavinder said. “That’s a pot of money … that we could budget for local government funding — cities, townships, local governments that are strapped right now.”

Incumbent Hall disagrees, saying although the rainy day fund has been built up in the last few years, the $1.5 billion in reserve isn’t a large savings.

“Ohio still owes over $1.7 billion to the federal government that we borrowed under (Gov.) Ted Strickland,” Hall said.

When Hall was elected to the Statehouse in 2008, he was appointed to the Finance Committee because of his experience with budgeting after serving more than 10 years as a Holmes County commissioner.

He said it’s been difficult to build up a “rainy day” fund because there was no savings available when he came into office during the height of the recent recession.

“We had a lot of work to do with the budget and our first priority was to stabilize the economy,” he said.

If the federal government debt were due, it would wipe out the state’s savings fund entirely, and Hall said he’s not sure state leaders are willing to stop setting aside money for savings.

Hall said he is willing to help struggling local governments by working to get more state money to help support major projects in communities.

“What I looked at over the period of the last year and a half is infrastructure costs are huge on the budgets of local governments,” he said. “So we’ve put more state dollars into the local projects to help pay for those costs.

Hall pointed to the recent investment in the Ohio Bridge Partnership, which aims to provide $120 million for the repair or replacement of more than 200 bridges statewide deemed “structurally deficient.”

Earlier this week, state leaders announced $5.1 million in bridge investments in Medina County.

“These projects can help take the burden off the local government,” he said.

Hall said he hopes voters return him to office because he said he and other state leaders have made progress. During the time he’s been in office, state unemployment numbers have dropped and the state’s finances are in better shape.

“We know full well we still have a lot of work to do in our recovery,” he said. “I want to make sure I can continue to be a partner with our local governments.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.