Little reason to celebrate

Ohio has some pretty screwed up priorities.

We can’t adequately fund our public schools, yet the legislature somehow managed to scrape up nearly $8 million in state funds last year to underwrite the 2003 Ohio bicentennial celebrations.

Sounds like a frat-house mentality to me: Ignore the peeling paint on the porch and the broken water heater; we have a party to plan.

I don’t mean to be unpatriotic, but this is a blatant misuse of taxpayer money.

Government funds shouldn’t be paying for hand-cast, commemorative bronze bells or statewide barn-painting projects. These may make for good photo ops for incumbent politicians, but they do nothing to improve the lives of Ohio’s citizens. Government funds should be spent trying to ensure all Ohioans have enough to eat, that they get an adequate education and that they feel safe in their homes and communities.

We have a long way to go in meeting such basic needs. For example, more than 1.2 million people in Ohio are hungry or at risk of hunger every day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than 117,000 people in Franklin County alone live in poverty, according to a study by the Ohio Hunger Task Force.

An estimated 120,000 adults in Franklin County –roughly 16 percent of the adult population — lack basic literacy skills such as being able to process simple texts, tables, charts and maps, according to a National Adult Literacy Survey. More than 90,000 new reports of child abuse, neglect and mistreatment are made in Ohio each year.

How can we party at a time like this?

Last fall, Gov. Bob Taft announced $6 million in emergency shelter grants would be given to Ohio communities and nonprofits to assist the homeless. That’s a nice gesture, but it’s still almost $2 million less than he’s earmarking for Ohio’s big bicentennial festivities. And it’s a full $24 million less than he originally wanted to spend on celebrating the state’s 200th birthday.

That’s right, folks. Taft originally recommended $30 million in state funds be set aside for the bicentennial.

I understand the desire to acknowledge this milestone “birthday,” but underwriting festivals throughout the state and Ohio-shaped corporate limit markers are unnecessary expenses at a time like this. After all, when a state has had 200 years to figure out how to house its homeless, feed its hungry and protect its youth, but those problems are still widespread, there’s not much cause for celebration. Nancy Byron ([email protected]) is editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.