Last month, Ohio voters sent a resounding message to public officials at all levels of government that they are not happy with the direction in which our state and country are headed. It now will be the job of a Republican-led Ohio General Assembly and Republican governor to deliver on this demand for change from the electorate by taking steps to dramatically cut state spending, reform how government operates and implement policies that help to improve our business climate, create jobs and put our state's economy on a foundation to grow now and in the future.
As part of this comprehensive effort, it is essential we re-examine where and how the state is investing limited taxpayer resources.
I have the privilege of representing the 26th Senate District, which includes all or part of eight counties in north-central Ohio. The region, like most predominantly rural areas, is home to a number of small, tight-knit towns with hard-working people who share a strong belief in God and a deep love and commitment for their family, community and country. These men and women not only farm the food we eat and manufacture many of the products we rely on every day, but this rural lifestyle and work ethic help to foster strong leaders who go on to serve in our nation's armed forces, run for public office or start a small business.
While Ohio's cities are important, our rural counties have and will continue to play an essential role in the success of our economy and the health and well-being of all Ohioans. If our state is to reach its full potential, we must work to dedicate more resources to strengthen education, grow businesses and support families in these areas.
However, our state traditionally has poured large amounts of money into urban counties which hold 50 percent of Ohio's population while our rural communities have, in many ways, been an afterthought. And, despite these significant investments, many of Ohio's large cities have been on the decline for years.
In February, a panel of state and federal lawmakers, university officials and other community leaders met in Columbus to discuss the findings of a report by the Greater Ohio Policy Center and the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program called Restoring Prosperity: Transforming Ohio's Communities for the Next Economy. The main theme of the report is that in order for Ohio to achieve economic growth and prosperity in the future, we must invest in our larger metropolitan areas. When I checked state appropriations for the past 10 years, I found that twice as much money was sent to Cuyahoga County than to either Franklin or Hamilton counties, which made the remaining 85 counties' funding pale in comparison.
There is no doubt Ohio's large urban counties are critical to our state's success. But, as legislators and Gov.-elect John Kasich work over the coming months to address Ohio's fiscal challenges, streamline state government and get our economy moving again, it is important we throw aside past urban biases and work to achieve a more strategic and effective balance in how the state's limited resources are distributed between our cities and our smaller rural communities.
Poverty exists in our urban and rural counties. In fact, nearly 20 percent of the population of Marion - the largest city in the 26th Senate District - currently lives in poverty. This is the highest rate of any city in the state.
More, many Ohioans who come from rural counties have been raised to value hard work, family, God and country, and their life experiences have helped instill strong leadership qualities that are a tremendous asset as we work to restore prosperity in Ohio.
Rural Ohio always has had a strong independent spirit. But, for our state to become the best state it can be, greater attention and support are needed in rural counties, not only to help those struggling to find jobs and take care of their families, but also to give people the opportunity to get a good education, start a career, and use their talent and leadership abilities to contribute to our state and local communities.
The 26th Senate District is home to some of the most fertile agricultural land in Ohio, and also to strong educational institutions such as Marion Technical College, The Ohio State University-Marion, Heidelberg University, Tiffin University and Terra Community College. We also have a thriving medical community and successful businesses ranging from Honda of America Manufacturing and Whirlpool to Kalmbach Feed and Advanced Fiber Technology. These institutions and the many caring and committed citizens of north-central Ohio need a greater share of the resources of the state to effectuate positive change. It's time legislators got the most bang for taxpayers' scarce bucks.