Remarkable success has been recorded in turning around the runaway train that once was Ohio's state budget. Gov. John Kasich and the General Assembly have wrought something of a miracle.
Just two years ago, the talk in Columbus was of an $8 billion gap in the state's spending plan. But once Kasich took office and legislators got serious about eliminating the potential shortfall, things changed quickly. A balanced two-year budget was enacted.
Success required sacrifice, unfortunately. State support for local school districts was reduced. Many state programs were cut back.
This month, the magnitude of the turnaround was made even more clear. State spending during the 2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30, was $235 million less than revenue. The "surplus" funds can be socked away in Ohio's budget reserve, or "rainy day" account.
Once that deposit is made, adding the FY 2012 surplus to money already tucked away in the rainy day account, the fund will hold a total of $482 million. That is almost astonishing growth; the rainy day account totalled just 89 cents - yes, 89 cents - in January 2011.
With the emergency fund nearing half a billion dollars, expect liberals in state government to begin calling for reversal of spending cuts implemented during the past year and a half. Their argument will be that Ohio obviously has turned a corner and can afford to ratchet spending back up to pre-recession levels.
Hardly. Even at $482 million, the rainy day fund represents just 1.8 percent of the state's general fund budget. That isn't even enough to help the state over a bump in the fiscal road. More like a tar strip.
No, Ohio residents can't risk going back to the devil-may-care budget days of the past. If anything, they should be worried a double-dip recession will erase the rainy day fund and require new spending cuts. Kasich and legislators are right to be planning to hold the line, or even tighten spending a bit more, in the future.