State legislators field budget, education questions

Jessica Rothschuh

Sen. Kevin Coughlin talks about the future of higher education in Ohio during yesterday’s coffee talk sponsored by Undergraduate Student Senate.

Credit: Jessica Rothschuh

Sen. Kevin Coughlin gave a small student audience a sneak preview yesterday of the changes to be proposed to Gov. Taft’s state budget today.

Among these changes is a tuition cap plan Coughlin introduced that would limit tuition increases depending on the dollar amount of a particular university’s tuition.

Previous legislation has capped tuition by using a percentage-based system, which Coughlin said allows universities with higher tuition to raise their tuition by higher dollar amounts than schools with lower tuition.

Coughlin’s plan would put universities into three different tiers and would allow universities with tuition costs lower than $6,600 a year to raise tuition by $100 more per student than universities with tuition higher than $7,700.

Coughlin presented his plan at the Undergraduate Student Senate’s coffee talk. Rep. Kathleen Chandler and Lauren Goode, Sen. Kimberly Zurz’s legislative aide, also were in attendance.

The legislators primarily fielded questions about higher education and how to reduce costs for students, but they also talked about Medicaid, plans for Ohio’s economic recovery and the recently proposed Academic Freedom Bill of Rights.

Chandler and Coughlin agreed on the need to provide more state funding for higher education, and both said they voted in favor of a proposal to expand gambling in the state and use all the revenue to lower the cost of higher education.

The proposal, which Coughlin said would bring in $400 million to $450 million in annual revenue, did not pass.

Goode pointed out that some people take issue with taxes on gambling, alcohol and cigarettes, known colloquially as “sin taxes,” seeing them as exploiting people’s shortcomings.

“The barrier is many of our colleagues ran on a platform of ‘no new taxes,’ ” Chandler said. This factored into the proposed budget, which if approved would bring in $800 million less in tax collection, decrease income taxes by 21 percent and create a $5 billion deficit.

“How are we going to balance that budget?” Chandler asked the audience. “We’re balancing it on the backs of the poorest, the disabled and the elderly.”

One way this is manifesting is through Medicaid cuts that are important to these groups.

“Medicaid is a much more pressing issue than Social Security,” Goode said.

The three speakers agreed on the need for Medicaid reform.

USS Sen. Chris Bowers asked what has been done to promote job creation in the state.

Coughlin answered that the state needs to pump money into technology and biomedical research to bring the best researchers to Ohio. This would then attract the best businesses and make the state a more attractive place.

“We make things, we grow things and we mine things,” Coughlin said. Ohio should have started to focus on technology years ago.

Bringing technology to Ohio would create a ripple effect “as (Ohio’s) blue collar turns white,” Coughlin said.

Contact student politics reporter Jessica Rothschuh at [email protected].