Book Review: Taxpayers Don’t Stand a Chance
Are you interested in learning how Ohio tumbled near the bottom of the economic heap under largely Republican leadership over the past two decades, or looking for the inside line on Romney's chances in the vital state? Matt Mayer offers data-rich conservative perspective in his new book Taxpayers Don't Stand a Chance: Why Battleground Ohio Loses No Matter Who Wins (and What to Do About It).
Mayer, the founder of think tank Opportunity Ohio, a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and a Research Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, also recently served as president of The Buckeye Institute, Ohio's leading free-market think tank.
In Taxpayers Don't Stand a Chance, Mayer recounts Ohio's history as a land of presidents, successful companies, and individual wealth. From 1803 to 1923, the Buckeye State was the home or birthplace of 8 out of 27 U.S. Presidents. Ohio was also home to world-renowned businesses including Firestone, Delco, National Cash Register, and Standard Oil. In 1911, Ohio's per capita income was 9.7% above the national average; in 1944, it was 10% above the average.
Since 1923, Coolidge VP Charles Dawes is the closest an Ohioan has come to the presidency. Firestone is now based in Nashville, Delco is part of Government Motors, NCR moved to Georgia, and Standard Oil moved to New York before antitrust law necessitated its breakup. By 2010, per capita income had plummeted to 9.4% below the national average.
During the 1990s, Ohio's private sector job growth ranked 38th nationally. During the 2000s, Ohio shed 614,400 jobs, worse than every state but Michigan. Since 1990, Ohio's job growth has been the 5th-lowest of the 50 states.
State general revenue fund spending went up 148% from 1990 through 2013 - outpacing inflation by an average of 2% every year - including Governor Kasich's current budget. Ohio's defined-benefit pension systems are a wreck, and local governments push for tax hikes at every opportunity.
How did Ohio get here, and how do we turn things around? That's what Mayer seeks to address in subsequent chapters of Taxpayers Don't Stand a Chance.
Mayer discusses the self-interest and spinelessness of career politicians. He criticizes the state's big newspapers - which trumpet studies from union-funded liberal think tanks but rarely give The Buckeye Institute the time of day - as well as local weeklies that serve as mouthpieces of school boards and city officials.
Mayer describes at length the emotional blackmail school districts use to pass tax levies, highlighting pro-tax campaigns funded by vendors whose profits rely on taxpayer dollars. He writes about the power of the Ohio Republican Party and Ohio Democratic Party to control state politics by endorsing primary candidates and cutting off anyone who dares to cross party leadership.
According to Mayer, Ohio governors and legislators from both parties have focused on the wrong problems for decades. In 1983, governor Richard Celeste (D) rammed through collective bargaining for public employees as a favor to union allies. Ted Strickland (D) gave unions power over home healthcare workers and emphasized green energy boondoggles.
Governor Kasich, a Republican, balanced a huge deficit without raising taxes but has since focused on "picking winners and losers" via JobsOhio, increased the pay of state employees by $21 million a year, and doubled down on an income tax cut funded with higher taxes on the energy industry instead of reduced government spending.
What I found most interesting about Taxpayers Don't Stand a Chance was Mayer's exhaustive research proving Ohio needs to break the grip of forced unionism. Ohio's closed-shop union status stifles capital investment, reduces individual freedom, and funnels millions of dollars to champions of the bureaucracy and big government that have crushed the state's economy.
Ohioans for Workplace Freedom should be a focal point for conservatives starting November 7, 2012.
Until then, Taxpayers Don't Stand a Chance also offers a detailed analysis of Ohio's purple electoral history. Even if my preceding 600 words are all you care to read about Ohio's structural problems for the rest of your life, Mayer's discussion of the counties to watch on election night is well worth the cost of a paperback or Kindle copy of the book.
Mayer is donating all profits from Taxpayers Don't Stand a Chance to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library and the State Policy Network. If you care about Ohio - or are just interested in the inside scoop on what color the Buckeye State will be on the big map this November - Matt Mayer's Taxpayers Don't Stand a Chance is highly recommended!
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jasonahart