LFC Comments: Thanks to a Willoughby lobbyist for sending us this article. We agree that the newspaper business has “come off the rails”. When neither local newspaper would publish our article about the Lake Community College’s settlement of their lawsuit with Mr. Steve Oluic, we knew that they have other agendas. Obviously, Cleveland.com does not know about Lobbyists for Citizens in Lake County.
The latest example of misbehavior by Ohio lawmakers proves we have a watchdog crisis: Letter from the Editor
Updated: Jan. 01, 2022, 8:01 a.m. | Published: Jan. 01, 2022, 8:00 a.m.
We have a watchdog crisis in Ohio, and nothing demonstrates that more effectively than a bill that legislators are pushing through to help commercial property owners at the expense of homeowners in the state.
The last time we saw Ohio lawmakers do something like this – to help a favored party at the expense of most Ohioans — it was House Bill 6. If you’ll recall, years of efforts by FirstEnergy to compel Ohioans to provide billions of dollars in subsidies for the utility and their aging nuclear plants were rejected, by legislators and then-Gov. John Kasich. Then Mike DeWine became governor, Larry Householder became House speaker and they rammed the subsidies into law.
We covered the whole thing, asking the appropriate questions about why the obviously dirty legislation was getting passed and signed by the governor. Legislators and DeWine offered ridiculous reasons for supporting their taking of billions from the pockets of Ohioans to enrich FirstEnergy. Of course, we learned later that FirstEnergy invested more than $60 million in bribes to get the law passed. Our aggressive analysis of the scandal was the runner up for the University of Florida’s Collier Prize for State Government Accountability.
Today, we have something seemingly as inexplicable as House Bill 6. As Ohio law now stands, anyone who feels their property is overvalued for purposes of property taxes can seek a reduction through a county board of revision. And school districts have the right to formally challenge property owners who might be trying to bamboozle the boards of revision.
School boards do not generally fight efforts by homeowners, where the tax consequences are negligible, but they do pay attention to commercial property owners. Significant reductions in pricey commercial sites can result in greatly reduced tax bills. School boards also analyze assessments in general and challenge those they feel are too low.
Because of how property taxes work in Ohio, if commercial property owners don’t pay their fair share of taxes, homeowners make up the difference. School boards worry about that. They need the votes of homeowners when they seek tax increases. If homeowners already feel too much of a pinch, they vote no. The result is that school districts, through careful analysis of property values and challenges at the boards of revision, provide the necessary reality check in our system of assessment.
Now comes the Legislature, rapidly moving on a bill to rein in school districts. Lawmakers would block school districts from challenging low assessments. They would put more hurdles before the districts seeking to fight property owners who use misleading information to seek lower assessments. Districts would also be blocked from appealing board of revision decisions to the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals.
Think about that. Districts would be blocked from filing appeals with the board whose only purpose is to consider appeals.
No legislator has been able to articulate a good reason for this bill. The system in place works. It needs no fixing. But lawmakers are hell bent on changing it.
I’m willing to bet that hardly anyone outside Cleveland and Columbus knows about this, though. In Cleveland, our newsroom has covered it online, in print, in our newsletters and on Today in Ohio, our news discussion podcast. The Columbus Dispatch has covered it, too.
But for most of the state, news coverage has dissolved away to almost nothing. Local television news covered this kind of shenanigans once upon a time, but no more. The slow death of local newspapers, radio newsrooms and news sites around the state has left people without news sources they once trusted to keep them informed.
Lawmakers know this. They know the watchdogs have been disappearing. They have misbehaved with abandon. It’s probably why people in Householder’s district re-elected him even after he was charged as the ringleader of the state’s biggest-ever corruption scandal.
I’m glad that in Cleveland, the steps we’ve taken over the last decade to make journalism sustainable are working. Our newsroom is on firm footing these days, thanks to your support. Your digital and print subscriptions, combined with other sources of revenue we’ve developed, allow us to keep paying attention to the kind of legislative misbehavior going on here. If you don’t subscribe, you can do so here.
Northeast Ohio is but one region of the state, though, and if the bulk of Ohio residents do not have access to trustworthy journalism, they have no idea when the government aims to thwart what’s best for its people. Without people having the knowledge, how can our Democracy survive?
I wish I had the answer, but I don’t. That’s why I call it a crisis. We need more watchdogs.