LISBON - Investing in local government is the key to growth and a healthy economy, according to Democratic candidate for governor Ed FitzGerald who made a stop in Lisbon Sunday.
Speaking to a crowd gathered at the Democratic headquarters on East Lincoln Way, FitzGerald offered insight into what he believes the state needs, and is concerned about what will happen should incumbent Republican John Kasich be re-elected.
The two are the only main contenders in the 2014 November election so far.
FitzGerald is currently the first county executive of Cuyahoga County, a position he was elected to in 2009. He is a former FBI agent assigned to the Organized Crime Task Force in Chicago and served as mayor of Lakewood in Cuyahoga County from 2007-11.
The county is the largest in the state, but that doesn't mean FitzGerald is for big government.
He believes more emphasis should be put on government at the local level and isn't pleased with the local government funding cuts included in the two-year budget.
With a state budget surplus that tops $300 million, he doesn't believe the funding cuts are necessary and said the money should be returned to the communities.
"The bottom line is the state took money from local communities," he said.
That money should be given to communities for them to spend how they choose, he added. For example, it could be put toward more police officers on the streets to crack down on crime.
"Most interventions when it comes to crime is at the local level," he said.
Members of the crowd shared their concerns with him about the state and county's drug problem, and one man said it is to blame for the lack of local workers in the oil and gas industry.
FitzGerald agreed he is disappointed not as many Ohioans are working in the industry. He said he would combat the drug problem through more enforcement and education - things that could be funded through the return of local government funding.
As for how the industry workers affect the economy, he said sometimes their pay is accounted for in Ohio, and sometimes in their home state.
He said Kasich should have tried to regulate the industry to make sure the taxes aren't just benefiting the state, but the communities in which the drilling is occurring who should receive a share.
Specifically, he said he decided to run for the top state position because he didn't like the way local communities have been treated over the years.
He went on to say that had voters known before that Kasich was going to support Senate Bill 5, they wouldn't have backed him.
"Firefighters, teachers have been laid off. We balanced our budget and did not do it by robbing communities," he said of Cuyahoga County.
The bill limited collective bargaining rights for public employee unions.
Like Democrats in the state legislature, FitzGerald said the new $62 billion budget benefits the wealthy and accused Kasich of not being for the middle class.
The state budget signed by Kasich Sunday night included a tax reform package that cuts 10 percent personal income tax over three years, reduces small business taxes by 50 percent, and increases the state sales tax by 0.25 percent.
FitzGerald told the crowd the income tax cuts will only benefit the minority whose income is $300,000 and higher.
"It's not really a tax cut, it's a tax shift," he said of the sales tax increase and 12.5 percent property tax rollback also included in the new budget.
He and state Rep. Nick Barborak (D-5) said they were disappointed Medicaid expansion was not included in the budget.
The expansion is targeted to provide health care coverage to thousands of Ohioans and veterans and create jobs in the health care field.
Barborak noted a discharge petition is already circulating around the House in a final effort by Democrats to move House Bill 176 to the floor for a vote.
FitzGerald's stop in Lisbon marked the 57th county he has visited in the last 90 days.
"We can win in this area and we certainly can do better than we did in 2010," he said.
He plans to make more visits to Lisbon.
County Democratic Party Chairman Dennis Johnson said he was pleased FitzGerald included Lisbon in his campaign tour.