Editorials from around Ohio

Published: Monday, July 01, 2019 @ 9:03 AM
Updated: Monday, July 01, 2019 @ 9:02 AM

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

The Vindicator, June 30

After A lackluster performance in the first Democratic presidential debate last week, Mahoning Valley Congressman Tim Ryan must come out swinging at the next gabfest or his campaign could die on the political vine.

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There are 23 Democrats competing for the party's nomination and the right to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

Trump has a definite advantage in money and a loyal political base as he seeks a second four-year term. Although he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, he still received the support of 62.9 million Americans - Clinton garnered 65.8 million votes.

Democrats must come to terms with the reality that Trump won 304 electoral votes to 227 for Clinton.

The Democratic Party is acutely aware that Trump, a self-acclaimed billionaire real-estate developer from New York City who had never run for public office, succeeded by appealing not only to Republicans, but to blue-collar white voters in regions like the Mahoning Valley.

Ryan, a resident of Howland who has been in Congress for 17 years, had an up-close look at the Trump phenomenon in this region. The Republican presidential nominee carried predominantly Democratic Trumbull County and almost won in heavily Democratic Mahoning County.

But the congressman also has the unique perspective of how Trump swayed voters in traditionally Democratic areas by making promises he has failed to keep.

That should be the congressman's underlying argument for his candidacy, namely that under Trump's presidency General Motors has padlocked its 53-year-old car assembly complex in Lordstown and eliminated 4,500 good-paying jobs in the Valley. Companies that had contracts with GM also cut their payrolls.

The economic impact of GM's decision will be felt for many years and could be as high as $1 billion. This, in a region that has spent the last three decades trying to overcome the economic devastation triggered by the end of major steel production. In all, the jobs of 50,000 Valley residents were affected.

Huge steel mills

Trump also promised to resurrect the huge steel mills that once dotted the banks of the Mahoning River. Not a shovel of dirt has been turned.

Rep. Ryan has a strong argument to make for being the voice of blue-collar workers, but he has to raise that voice to be heard over the cacophony of the crowded Democratic presidential field.

During last Wednesday's debate, he came across as too timid and too respectful of the other nine candidates on the stage.

As a result, he received comparatively little air time, while the more aggressive contenders talked over others and even ignored appeals for decorum from the panel of NBC journalists asking the questions.

Ryan, who has a compelling story to tell as the congressman from a region of the country often referred to as the Rust Belt, should know that his next appearance in a debate could be his last.

We have supported his bid for the Democratic nomination for president because of his favorite-son status and the fact that in one of his appearances on national TV he went for President Trump's jugular.

In talking about Trump's broken promises to the Valley, Ryan, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, made note of the billions of dollars Trump is paying farmers to make up for the loss in revenue from his ongoing trade war with China and other countries.

Ryan told the national audience that the president should pledge $1 billion to upgrade the Lordstown complex so GM can use it to build electric cars.

Instead, the president is supporting a ludicrous plan unveiled by GM CEO Mary Barra that would create about 400 jobs - if the plan ever came to fruition.

Trump and Barra announced that GM is prepared to sell the Lordstown assembly complex to Cincinnati-based Workhorse to build electric trucks.

But that's a far cry from when the giant automaker produced hundreds of thousands of cars over a half century. Indeed, the Chevrolet Cruze, which the company discontinued building in order to shut down the plant, was one of GM's top-selling vehicles.

In the weeks leading up to the July 30 and 31 debates in Detroit, we would urge Ryan and his campaign advisors to develop a strategy that will not only give him more visibility, but will grab the attention of the national press.

The congressman faces an enormous challenge in his bid to become a top-tier candidate, which is why he should be better prepared to mix it up in the forthcoming debate than he was last week.

Online: https://bit.ly/2J1E5Gg

___The Columbus Dispatch, July 1

That the Ohio Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation wants to see the "benefit cliff" addressed is commendable. They're right that low-income workers trying to build better lives shouldn't have to turn down a raise or a promotion because it would cause them to lose their food stamps or Medicaid and actually be poorer than before.

But the foundation's recent report on the matter doesn't address an obvious element of what it calls "the workforce puzzle": Those struggling workers depend on public assistance only because their employers pay them so little. Should taxpayers have to make up the difference between what they pay and a living wage?

The question is especially worth asking for companies that already are directly subsidized by taxpayers in the form of tax incentives. A poster child for corporate-welfare double-dipping is Amazon, which has taken more than $17 million in incentives for two distribution centers in central Ohio and also was 19th-highest on a 2018 list of major companies with employees qualifying for public assistance.

The puzzle the report refers to is the difficulty many companies have in finding and keeping good employees. The chamber foundation maintains that some low-paid employees turn down raises or quit rather than lose their public benefits. Today's low unemployment makes the problem worse.

The foundation suggests that lawmakers should do something about the benefit cliff and that solutions should involve businesses working with local and state governments.

That no doubt would be helpful to those workers and their employers, but the answer to low wages can't be ever-rising levels of public assistance.

Stubbornly low wages have been worrying central Ohio leaders for years. In 2014, 200 people gathered at the Columbus Public Health Department to try to figure out why unemployment was declining but poverty wasn't.

In 2015, a report by the liberal advocacy group Policy Matters Ohio noted that Ohio's average hourly wage, then $16.05, was $1.25 below the peak years of 2006, 2000 and 1979 when adjusted for inflation and had dipped below the national average.

Of course, adjusting eligibility levels for public benefits could be part of the solution. Policymakers should consider creating or increasing the number of eligibility tiers, so that assistance shrinks more gradually as income rises instead of falling off the current steep cliffs.

But more public assistance shouldn't be the default solution. The fact that so many working Ohioans are poor says that raising wages must be a top economic-development policy.

The city of Columbus requirement that companies receiving tax incentives pay workers at least $15 per hour is a good start. But other income-suppressing trends, such as the increased use of benefit-lacking part-time, temporary and contract workers, can make an official $15 minimum less meaningful. Those trends must be addressed as well.

We also have to focus on getting more workers the training and skills they need for the jobs that are available. That, too, is a responsibility that shouldn't fall only on the public; employers can step up.

Employers want workers who can stay in their jobs and be dependable — whose lives aren't likely to be upended by eviction or a medical crisis or lack of a babysitter. That stability makes for healthier individuals and communities, too.

Employers can help make that possible by building higher wages and benefits into their business plans.

Online: https://bit.ly/2XcoLL7

___The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 23

Gov. Mike DeWine's decision to level unprecedented state attention on Cuyahoga County's troubled jails -- while also adding inspection staff, improving the transparency of inspections and otherwise ramping up the state's ability to clamp down on deficient local jails in Ohio -- should be applauded.

Such measures are merited and overdue. In Cuyahoga County, especially.

Seven months after a U.S. Marshals report found inhumane conditions at the Cuyahoga County jails, reforms still appear to be moving at a snail's pace, despite some notable improvements. The intensified oversight DeWine is promising -- state inspections every 30 days instead of once a year, and more if necessary, along with threats of a state lawsuit if adequate changes aren't made - will help ensure that Cuyahoga County delivers in a timely way on required reforms.

Lives are on the line.

Likewise, the Cuyahoga County jail situation clearly exposed the need for improved state oversight of local jails. Cuyahoga County jail inmates began dying last year, not many months after the county absorbed Cleveland jail inmates without sufficient manpower to do so. Yet cleveland.com has reported that the state jail inspector still was giving the county jails passing marks.

Only after the U.S. Marshals report found constitutionally deficient conditions did the state circle back and start marking off major problems, finding in February that the county jails failed to meet 62 percent of the state's 135 standards.

Improvements have been made. A June 3 state inspection found that the instances of noncompliance at the county jails had dropped, from the 84 infractions in February to 66 in June.

That's a 21 percent gain in four months. But it also means the county jails remained out of compliance in nearly half the standards.

Remaining issues are being addressed, county and jail officials told cleveland.com editors and reporters Thursday.

An outside food vendor and menu planner is being hired, in line with best practices elsewhere. Stackable bunks have been purchased to get overflow inmates off mattresses on the floor. The county is aggressively hiring new corrections officers and has boosted their pay. A new layer of jail supervision is being added by hiring into eight newly created lieutenant positions, along with additional sergeant and corporal hires. MetroHealth staff have returned to handle medical and mental health intake reviews and medical supervision at the jail.

Additionally, the county's new jail administrator, Ronda Gibson, took over earlier this month, providing the first permanent jail leader since November, when former jail chief Ken Mills abruptly resigned (he's since been indicted). With experience at county jails in Seneca, Wood and Lorain counties, Gibson promises at minimum a hand at the tiller with law enforcement experience, new perspectives and a seeming determination to right the ship of county jail management.

But transparency and accountability matter, too. With the state imposing intensified oversight, it behooves Cuyahoga County officials, starting at the top with County Executive Armond Budish, to be open and clear with the public about reforms.

During officials' Thursday meeting with cleveland.com, a county lawyer frequently intervened to prevent answers from Budish and other county officials on such matters as efforts to curtail drugs in the jail, including drugs possibly brought in by staff, and on the current culture of the jail. The reason given: Such topics are subject or potentially will be subject to civil lawsuits, and any implied admission that jail practices weren't up to snuff could drive up settlement costs.

Maybe. Maybe not. The problems at the jail are well-known, and will become better known once state inspectors start visiting every 30 days. You can't make them go away by refusing to talk about solutions. All that happens then is that trust in county leadership further erodes. Budish holds the leadership reins. It is up to him to make the call in favor of transparency.

Online: https://bit.ly/2LwGY3C

___The Toledo Blade, June 30

U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., want to forgive student debt and provide future undergraduates with free tuition at public colleges.

The proposals may help the two stand out among the crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates. And they pose an interesting question: How high might a generation of young people unburdened by student debt might soar?

Unfortunately, the pair are addressing the issue in a vacuum.

Wiping away existing debt and offering free degrees in the future would do nothing to address — and might even exacerbate — the related problem of spiraling college costs. Free tuition also could result in more students pursuing low-value four-year degrees while jobs in the trades and the technical fields go unfilled. That disconnect could hurt local economies.

Student debt, college affordability and workforce development are inextricably linked. Regardless of what may sound alluring on the hustings, it makes no sense to rearrange only one piece of the puzzle.

One observer said the competing proposals for student aid have started to resemble a political "arms race." Ms. Warren struck first, suggesting a sliding scale of loan forgiveness based on a person's income. Mr. Sanders upped the stakes last week with a proposal to cover all outstanding public and private college debt — an amount totaling about $1.6 trillion, Mr. Sanders would fund his loan forgiveness/?free tuition plan with a tax on stock trades, including those associated with 401(k) plans, while Ms. Warren has called for higher income taxes on the nation's wealthiest 0.1 %.

The proposals would upend the custom of working for most of what the government provides. People pay into Social Security and Medicare before receiving them in retirement. Even the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era relief program, married the individual's need for work with the nation's need to get work done.

There's also the question of how much socioeconomic leveling these "progressive" programs would provide. Forbes noted that elimination of graduate school debt would be a boon for doctors, lawyers and other professionals with big incomes. Vox pointed out that free tuition could disproportionately benefit more affluent families, whose kids are more likely to go.

Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren also have failed to consider the way loan forgiveness and free tuition have been used in the past and the adverse consequences that changes might bring.

For decades, the G.I. Bill has been a recruitment tool for the nation's all-volunteer military and rewarded servicemen and women for their sacrifices. If college becomes free, the armed forces may have a more difficult time finding competent recruits.

Similarly, the federal government offers the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for college graduates who take certain jobs in government or the nonprofit sector. Debt forgiveness and free tuition could alter the workforce for those employers — or cause some workers to bolt their jobs as soon as their debts are erased.

Nor does the nation need to prop up struggling colleges and universities. These institutions should redefine their missions and shore up their finances, or they deserve to go out of business. Perhaps more should adopt the model of Kentucky's Berea College, where students pay no tuition but work 10 to 15 hours a week in one of 100 or so approved positions benefiting the campus and community.

This much is clear: With their plans to cancel debt and provide free tuition, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren have demonstrated an inadequate grasp of some of the nation's thorniest academic, social and economic challenges.

Online: https://bit.ly/2xkM5vp