Ohioans Deserve Transparency and Accountability in Obama’s Energy Regulations

Obamacare for electricity—that effectively sums up the Obama administration’s new carbon dioxide regulation called the Clean Power Plan. Just as Obamacare forced states to set up their own health insurance exchanges or use a federal exchange, the carbon rule forces states to develop their own energy plan or implement a federal plan forced on them by Washington.

The Buckeye Institute has already explained why this regulation is a big problem for Ohio.  Possibly most troubling is the fact that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) currently has sole authority over the compliance plan, wielding unchecked power and excluding voters and their representatives from having a say in the matter.

Fortunately, a bill has been introduced in the Ohio House, which would give the legislature oversight of any plan developed by OEPA. While an encouraging step towards accountability and transparency, this bill needs to be strengthened in three ways.

First, the bill should require the General Assembly to take a vote to approve or reject the compliance plan so that each legislator has the opportunity to comment on and express his or her opinion of the plan.

Second, the bill should require OEPA to write a report that justifies their compliance plan choices and estimates the impact of the plan on energy costs and reliability. This report should be readily available to the public as well as government insiders.  Ohio citizens should have the opportunity to understand how this federal mandate impacts them.

Finally, the bill should make any future revisions to Ohio’s plan also subject to legislative approval. The Clean Power Plan will affect Ohio through at least 2030 and much could change between now and then. It is important that all Ohioans have input and accountability today as well as in the future.

This “Obamacare for energy” regulation will affect Ohio for many years to come. Ohioans deserve the opportunity to understand these regulations and exercise their voice through their legislature. We applaud the House for its efforts to protect Ohioans from federal overreach and rising energy costs for households. Implementing these three modifications will ensure this protection is long-standing.

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Three cheers for Mandel: Local government gets more transparent


Josh Mandel

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel deserves a standing ovation today for announcing that his effort to bring financial transparency to government is expanding to local governments and school boards.

The scope of what Mandel is trying to do — disclose every penny government spends, who gets the money and why – is breathtaking in its scope, audacity and usefulness.

Since December, the Treasurer has made every check written by the state available digitally on OhioCheckbook.com. The site has already been visited by 330,000 taxpayers.

Today, Mandel went broader and deeper. He added “every check written” information on the 114 local governments and school districts who volunteered to be early adopters in this historic transparency effort.

Another 300 local governments have committed to joining the digital effort to disclose every check written. The Treasurer’s Office is in discussions with another 400 local governments to come on board.

This is an impressive start, even though there’s a long ways to go. Ohio has 3,962 local governments: cities, villages, townships, counties, school districts, recreation districts and so on.

The Buckeye Institute is a longtime leader in the fight for governmental financial transparency in government. We created the popular public databases (on this web site) that show government salaries for government employees.

“Buckeye was there ahead of us,” Mandel said in Thursday’s news conference. Without our institute’s work, “this would not have been possible,” he said.

We appreciate the shoutout!  The Buckeye Institute cares deeply about financial transparency because we consider ourselves a watchdog and steward for how taxpayer money is spent.

Yet for all we’ve done,  Mandel is taking transparency to a whole new level, beyond what any other state has done.

Ohio spent $975,000 to license specialized OpenGov software to handle the complex digital task of integrating data from thousands of sources. It will spend $450,000 to $950,000 to maintain and update the license, depending on the speed at which governments join. This is money well spent.

This OpenGov software does more than make information available on OpenCheckbook.com. It makes the information easy to use — to search, to download, to analyze, to visualize.

The Ohio Newspaper Association is a key supporter of the transparency effort for obvious reasons. These financial records are already public records but, in practice, are so hard and costly to get that it’s hard to keep the public informed.

Kevin Boyce

Mandel, a Republican, got strong support from Ohio Democrats for his transparency effort. Former Treasurer Kevin Boyce, the incumbent Mandel defeated to take office, graciously stood next to Mandel Thursday to offer support.

Mandel is now getting to the hard part of transparency: getting local governments to be open. As a state official, Mandel has the power to make Ohio state government financial data available. But local governments and state universities must volunteer to participate. Mandel’s legal authority is limited to encouraging, cajoling and embarrassing.

An example of the hurdles to open government?

Mandel ripped the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System as “antagonistic and not truthful in actions and words” for stonewalling him on financial transparency. He asked OPERS board in June for its support but hasn’t gotten cooperation. “This information belongs to taxpayers and belongs to retirees,” he said in exasperation.

By contrast, Cincinnati, Franklin County, Hamilton County and Mahoning County are among the big governments who’ve gotten on board. (The cities of Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo have not — yet.)

The state’s universities have responded favorably but technical details — such as protecting student and hospital patient privacy — are being worked out before a formal commitment is made.

It will likely be years for taxpayers to have comprehensive financial data on all 3,962 local governments at their fingerprints. But 800 on the way is an impressive start.

We give a thumbs up to the local governments leading the way. Already, 114 are providing “every dollar spent” data to OpenCheckbook.gov.

It’s a thing of beauty to tap a keyboard and instantly see how much the city of Delaware spent to heat its fire stations in December. Maybe next year taxpayers and city officials will find a way to get more heat for less money.









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Ed Meese to honor Bill Batchelder on October 7


Please join us for a dinner to celebrate the inauguration of the Honorable William G. Batchelder III as our Edwin Meese III Distinguished Fellow. This event has limited seating available, and is not designed to be a huge gala.  Rather, it is an intimate dinner featuring some thoughts and observations of one of the greatest Attorney Generals our country has ever had.  President Reagan’s Attorney General Ed Meese is the fitting namesake of The Buckeye Institute’s new position that we are honored to have former Ohio Speaker Bill Batchelder inaugurating.  We look forward to having General Meese in Ohio at such an auspicious occasion, and hope you can join us for the festivities and what promises to be a memorable evening. We hope to see you there.


The Buckeye Institute

cordially invites you to attend a dinner

to celebrate the inauguration of

The Honorable William G. Batchelder III

as our Edwin Meese III Distinguished Fellow

with remarks by

the 75th Attorney General of the United States

Edwin Meese III

Hosted by Karen Buchwald Wright

Wednesday, October 7

Reception at 6:00 P.M.

Dinner at 7:00 P.M.

Mount Vernon Country Club

8927 Martinsburg Road

Mount Vernon, Ohio

Business Attire

$50 per person

R.S.V.P. by September 30


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Governor Kasich and Attorney General DeWine Fight Obama EPA Overreach

On August 28, 2015, Governor Kasich asked President Obama to delay the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan that will surely cripple Ohio’s economy. Mr. Kasich’s letter to the White House followed Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s decision to join with 15 states challenging the Clean Power Plan in federal court. We applaud Mr. Kasich and Mr. DeWine for these efforts to save Ohio jobs and resist yet another Washington power grab.

Touted as a blueprint to save the world from “climate change,” the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan threatens all Ohioans with higher energy bills, corporate downsizing and layoffs, and a frontal assault on Ohio’s rightful role in regulating her electricity market.

Ohioans face higher energy bills across the board if the Clean Power Plan is implemented. The Buckeye Institute’s Joe Nichols has explained: An economic analysis found that the Clean Power Plan could cost up to $348 billion from 2017-2031 (present value, inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars). Ohioans could see double-digit electricity price increases, which would hurt low and fixed income citizens the most.” 

Higher energy bills pose a significant risk to Ohio’s economic recovery.  The Buckeye Institute has expressed this fear on multiple occasions, including during the U.S. EPA’s deliberations on the final rule. Sharing this concern, Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler has warned that “Access to reliable, abundant and low-cost electricity is the backbone of Ohio’s robust economy.”  Forcing affordable power offline and igniting double-digit price hikes could sever that backbone and paralyze the state’s economy.

Clean Power Plan advocates like to trumpet “green job” growth as a fringe benefit of the Plan.  Those purported gains, however, rarely account for the jobs and wages lost due to the significantly higher energy costs that the Plan imposes.  These lost jobs and earnings will be more difficult to see and quantify, but no less real.  Nineteenth century economic theorist, Frederic Bastiat, famously explained this phenomena of “seen and unseen” consequences, observing that although obvious gains to politically-favored parties may be easy to spot, the non-obvious losses to everyone else are more difficult to discern but just as consequential.

An even more fundamental, structural consequence of the new Plan includes the bold expansion of federal power into the state’s regulatory domain.  The Clean Power Plan is yet another shining example of bureaucratic micromanagement from Washington.

The Ohio Public Utilities Commission has had sole jurisdiction over the state’s electricity retail market since 1911—almost six decades before the EPA was a twinkle in Richard Nixon’s eye. A state-based regulatory structure recognizes the value of local knowledge and control, and the inherent inefficiencies of one-size-fits-all regulation. The Federal Power Act of 1935 explicitly stipulates that the federal government’s jurisdiction in these markets shall “extend only to those matters which are not subject to regulation by the States.”  The Clean Power Plan ignores this jurisdictional “bright line” between state and federal governments, and instead usurps power over electricity markets that has long been reserved for Ohio and her sister states.  This blatant power grab, as our Rea Hederman recently explained, comprises the core of the multi-state litigation that Ohio has wisely joined.

For all of its costs and potential for economic and constitutional harm, even the Obama Administration admits that the Clean Power Plan “won’t save the world.”  Despite its draconian effects, the Plan’s net benefits to the climate are negligible at best, making it even more important that Mr. Kasich and Mr. DeWine continue to stand up for Ohio and fight for her economy.

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Labor Reforms for Labor Day

Labor Reforms for Labor Day

September 7th is Labor Day, a holiday commemorating the American worker’s contribution to American prosperity and growth.  Unfortunately, Ohio workers today face limited opportunity and freedom. The Buckeye Institute is committed to labor reforms that will restore freedom and prosperity for Ohio workers.

Stop forcing workers to support monopolistic unions: embrace right-to-work laws. With no right-to-work law in Ohio, workers are forced to pay union “agency fees” to unions they do not belong to or support. These mandatory fees are a harsh limit on worker freedom that allow unions to ignore workers’ needs. The latest report from The Buckeye Institute shows that are more responsive to the needs of union members in response to right to work. Right-to-work laws are labor reforms that defend workers’ freedom and create jobs.

Let workers compete fairly: repeal the prevailing wage law. The Buckeye Institute has released a report detailing how prevailing wage reform would free workers and taxpayers from costly regulations that consolidate union power at their expense. The law requires any contractor bidding on a public construction project to pay employees the “prevailing wage,” which is determined by union wage schedules and not the market rate. When these often-inflated wages are set as the baseline, the 85% of Ohio workers not in a union cannot leverage their cost-effectiveness into competitive bids. Opportunities for all workers decrease, government spending and taxes increase, and a few small groups insulate their profits from competition.  Reforming or repealing the prevailing wage law would give all workers the opportunity to pursue public construction contracts.

Create more opportunities for workers: end mandatory project labor agreements. Similar to prevailing wage schedules, project labor agreements (PLAs) allow special interests to define the terms of public works bidding before the first bid is heard. An earlier Buckeye report shows the burden placed on workers by this non-competitive process: construction cost spikes limit available projects, and non-union workers priced out of the market.

PLAs cost jobs

Workers have a right to decide what wages they will work for and what groups they will support. Extorted agency fees and distorted bidding processes rob workers of freedom in order to empower special interests. It is far past time to let workers set their own course for prosperity.

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Ohio Takes the Right Stance On Clean Power Plan

The Obama administration is offering states a bait-and-switch with its “Clean Power Plan” for power plant carbon dioxide emissions. Fortunately, the Kasich administration appears to be refusing the bait and fighting back against this federal power grab.

The Buckeye Institute was a leading voice on this issue, submitting comments to EPA soon after the proposed rule was released, and has continued to update followers with commentary on the regulation’s impact on power markets, low-income families, and the state economy.

This unprecedented regulation allows states to either submit a state compliance plan of their own design or accept a federal plan. The bait is that a state-crafted compliance plan will ostensibly be less costly and more flexible to implement than the federal plan. However, once a state submits a plan it becomes a binding and enforceable agreement with the federal government. Worse, state plans would actually give EPA far more authority than federal law delegates to the agency.

To their credit, the Kasich administration is questioning the legality of this regulation. In fact, Attorney General Mike DeWine joined 15 other states in a direct challenge to the Clean Power Plan. Further, Director Craig Butler of Ohio’s state environmental agency stated that it would be “irresponsible” to begin complying with the regulation before the courts decide whether it is legal. Governor Kasich likewise declared, “I am just not convinced that all this regulatory imposition that would wreck a state like Ohio…is going to be held up in courts.”

Refusing to take the bait is clearly the right strategy. If Ohio submits a state plan, EPA has broad discretion to change it anyways. And Ohio can submit a state plan even after receiving a federal plan. The smart play is to wait until the courts decide on the rule’s legality before undertaking costly and irreversible compliance measures.

Ohio should learn from the EPA’s recent Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) regulation:  The Supreme Court ultimately vacated the rule, but this good news came too late—AEP alone had already spent $3.3 billion and shuttered 9 power plants (including 2 in Ohio) by that time. It would be foolish to repeat the same mistake with the Clean Power Plan.

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Nearly 11,000 New Local Government Jobs Undermine Doomy Predictions

You wouldn’t know it by reading headlines like “Starving Cities,” but local government employment is actually on an upswing in Ohio.   In fact, according to the latest job numbers released by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Ohio saw a 10,900 worker increase in local government workers in June.  That compares to 8,400 private sector jobs lost over the same time.  Since June of 2014, the net gain to local government employment has been 7,200.  That is actually 10% of the nearly 72,000 total non-farm jobs added over the last year.  This reality, rather than political rhetoric, validates the decision that Governor Kasich and the General Assembly previously made to dramatically reduce revenue sharing between Columbus and local governments.

Reductions to the Local Government Fund, known as the LGF, back in the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget was significant.  At the time the Administration argued that local governments needed to stop looking to Columbus for more revenue, especially as the Administration was looking to balance a systemically unbalanced budget that had been left by former Governor Strickland.

This author subsequently wrote a report, Revenue Sharing Reform: On the Road to Ohio’s Recovery, last September that showed that most municipalities and counties were not suffering fiscal apocalypses as a result of the LGF reductions.  In fact, the report showed that many municipalities and counties were seeing increased revenues from local tax sources such as the municipal income and local option county sales taxes.

Despite the numbers, the steady drumbeat of doom and gloom from many local officials continued unabated with many newspaper editorials joining in the dirge-like chorus.

Unfortunately, for those doomsayers, these latest job numbers really hammer home just how over the top those criticisms have been.  While it is certainly true that local levies and local tax increases have taken place in different jurisdictions, it has not been such a massive wave as commonly presumed.  Additionally, as The Buckeye Institute has long maintained, local spending decisions should be left to local taxpayers.  Local taxpayers are best positioned to spend their own local resources for the level of services demanded.  There is no need for Columbus to redistribute Cincinnati tax dollars to Cleveland projects.

These latest numbers should raise questions about the fact that Ohio still spends nearly $400 million each year on LGF redistributions to local governments.  Imagine how much more tax reform could be achieved if that was entirely eliminated or more narrowly focused on governmental entities that do not have the local tax capacity that municipalities and counties have, such as townships.

The Buckeye Institute continues to maintain that the LGF should be eliminated and those dollars shifted into across the board state income tax cuts.  This will give local taxpayers more money in their pockets rather than sending them to Columbus.  They can then decide what they really want—locally. As for the fear of laid off workers and terrible services; 10,900 new June local government jobs put those to rest.

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