Not content with an $8 billion budget deficit, Ohio's Governor Ted Strickland is trying to see how much money he can waste on his own reelection before taxpayers take notice. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Strickland's administration is pursuing a $37.1 million upgrade for the Ohio School for the Deaf and the Ohio State School for the Blind. What's interesting about this project is a directive by the Ohio School Facilities Commission, specifically from the executive director who was appointed by the governor, to require union scale wages on all project bids. The Commission's executive director is quoted in the Dispatch's editorial as saying that the schools are "where we have some of the most vulnerable kids imaginable" and the requirement is out of concern for workplace safety and the safety of the disabled children.
But, as the editorial correctly notes, workplace safety requirements apply regardless of the wage paid. The real reason why the wage requirement is in place - and why the project will cost as much as 15 percent more than it would without the wage requirement - is to force the government to hire union contractors, who will in turn put more money - provided by the taxpayers - into the coffers of the unions, whom the governor will be counting on in the fall election campaign. As the dispatch points out, instead of the millions of tax dollars going to refurbishing other schools, paying down the deficit, or even being returned to taxpayers, the money will go to phone banks, yard signs, and get out the vote operations to secure the governor's reelection.
A story like this illustrates the need for transparency in state government spending. For years, NTU has advocated for the creation of websites that allow taxpayers to track spending and scrutinize government programs at the state level. Such websites and more transparency will help promote an informed conversation about public policy and reduce waste and fraud, especially when tax dollars are used by political incumbents to retain office. Let's hope that Ohio's legislators take up more transparency measures in the near future to prevent blatantly political uses of taxpayer dollars like this one.