The attendees at a state policy conference recently in Toledo heard some straight talk from the mayor of Toledo about the rift that has deepened between Toledo and lawmakers in the state capital.
Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz highlighted the ways in which Toledo is loosening the grip of poverty. He pointed to the city’s spending discipline by cutting spending $2.5 million, the reduction in unemployment, the increased hiring of police officers. These are accomplishments that tell naysayers and skeptics in Columbus that Toledo is serious about being a city of growth and excellence, and no particular thanks to Columbus for it.
When the city was fighting the Great Recession, what did the state do? Slash state revenue sharing to municipalities. The cost to Toledo has added up to $105 million by now.
“Frankly, Toledo needs a friend in Columbus. We haven’t had one in a long time,” he said. “Just pick one: Either help us out or let us govern ourselves.”
The Impact Ohio Toledo Regional Conference is an outgrowth of a conference that has been held after general elections in Columbus for decades. Toledo has embraced these regional conferences. They are a place for local officials to network with state officials.
Toledo has a big interest in Columbus, specifically in getting some kind of friendly support. Instead, it seems to get mostly sharp elbows. Red light cameras? Gun control? Lead remediation? Ending the flood of algae-nourishing fertilizer and manure off of Ohio farms into the Maumee River watershed? Columbus’s reflexive response in every case has been to yank the rug out from under Toledo.
It’s not just Toledo. It’s all urban Ohio that feels it has no friend in Columbus. A case in point is House Bill 70, which passed under Gov. John Kasich. The law allows the state to appoint a CEO in charge of school districts that are failing. It is a clumsy flop because lawmakers did not attempt to understand the feelings of local communities about their school districts.
The early months of Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration suggest a warming out of Columbus. The governor has professed commitment to improve the real state services that benefit children in early education and in prenatal health, for example. Focusing on services to children — their health and education, starting in the earliest years — is a place that urban and rural can agree on.
Both Toledo and the state have much to gain by moving beyond the atmosphere of hostility that has existed many years now. Honest talk is a start toward making that happen.