Its not often you see business associations support budget requests by State agencies, especially when its Ohio EPA.  However, as a result of Senate actions with would cap Ohio EPA’s spending authority business groups have sent a strong letter of support to the Ohio Legislature requesting the caps be removed. (Ohio Chamber and Ohio Manufacturer’s Letter Re: Ohio EPA’s Budget).

When Ohio EPA introduced their budget proposal they requested an increase in solid waste and construction & demolition debris tipping fees in order to maintain the current staff.  Under the proposal municipal waste dumping fees would go from $4.75 per ton from the current $3.50 per ton.  C&D fees would have seen the largest jump, going from $1.70 per ton to $4.40 per ton.Ohio EPA argued the fee increases were necessary to offset increasing costs to maintain as well as adjust for a decline in the amount of waste being disposed in Ohio’s landfills. 

The fees became lost in a sea of other fee increase proposed by Governor Ted Strickland designed to help balance Ohio’s beleaguered budget.  More so than in budget battles past, the fees were likened to tax increases and many (including Ohio EPA’s request) were stripped from the budget.

In a recent Springfield News-Sun article, State Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, articulated "fees are hidden taxes" argument.  Here is his quote from the article:

“The EPA is a fee-based entity. They should have to tighten their belts like everybody else. Not just ask for more fees,” Faber said.

Ohio EPA requested that the Legislature restore their spending authority and re-establish the $1.00 fee increase in municipal solid waste fees.  Now this issue will play out in a contentious Conference Committee this weekend.  The Business Group’s letter strongly supports the restoration of spending authority, but is silent on any fee increase. 

However, the Senate went one dramatic step beyond stripping out proposed fee increases, it placed a cap on allowable expenditures from existing fees.  In other words, Ohio EPA would be prohibited above the cap from spending money it had already collected from existing fees.

In response, Ohio EPA issued an analysis that if the fees remain out and the caps in place it would be forced to eliminate 200 positions (cut or not fill vacant positions).  Understanding the budget debate needed to be linked to Ohio’s ailing economy, the Agency said many of the eliminated positions would likely be in permitting sections which could slow down economic development in the State. Here is the analysis provided by Ohio EPA of the potential staff cuts. 

Division of Air Pollution Control Staff Cuts

Division of Surface Water Staff Cuts

Unfortunately, this issue is a relatively small issue in terms of the $2.4 billion dollar budget gap that the Conference Committee must fill.  Governor Strickland recently proposed very controversial spending cuts to many State programs.  How Ohio EPA will fair in this type of difficult budget climate remains to be seen. 

Ohio EPA is my former employer and I still have the scars from past budget battles.  From my time at the Agency I am a strong believer in the fact the Agency needs to maintain staff to keep up with an ever increasing workload. A workload that many outside the Agency walls don’t see or don’t fully appreciate. I am crossing my fingers that the Legislature will devote a small amount of time to resolve this issue and will do the right thing.

(Photo: J.Stephen Conn/flickr)