Just as the Ohio Senate began its work on House Bill 1, the state budget bill, the latest income tax data from April confirmed what we have both suspected and dreaded -- state revenues are down significantly. That means the legislature and the governor will need to address a shortfall of nearly $1-billion before the end of June, which is when our current fiscal year ends, while at the same time working to pass a balanced budget for fiscal years 2010-2011 with a lot fewer resources with which to work. This will be a challenge, no question, but it pales in comparison to what many Ohio families are facing. The fact is that when you step back and look at what the tax data, tables and figures really revealed, it's that many Ohioans are out of work and struggling to make ends meet.

Just as the Ohio Senate began its work on House Bill 1, the state budget bill, the latest income tax data from April confirmed what we have both suspected and dreaded -- state revenues are down significantly. That means the legislature and the governor will need to address a shortfall of nearly $1-billion before the end of June, which is when our current fiscal year ends, while at the same time working to pass a balanced budget for fiscal years 2010-2011 with a lot fewer resources with which to work. This will be a challenge, no question, but it pales in comparison to what many Ohio families are facing. The fact is that when you step back and look at what the tax data, tables and figures really revealed, it's that many Ohioans are out of work and struggling to make ends meet.

That's why at the same time we are working to plug the dams and get through this economic downturn, my highest priority continues to be making our state more attractive for jobs and economic development. I am proud that in the first five months I have served in the Ohio Senate, I had the opportunity to both sponsor and support a number of bills that I believe will take us in the right direction.

As the sponsor of Senate Bill 1, I have been working to finish what we started last session when Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass a $1.57-billion state economic stimulus bill. My bill sought to appropriately allocate the remaining $360-million into key investments that are critical to revitalizing our state economy -- our infrastructure, our work force and in the development of industries like biomedical science, advanced agriculture, logistics and distribution -- all of which have the potential to bring many new jobs to central Ohio. While my bill has been pending in the Ohio House, I am pleased to report that through the state transportation budget, which passed in March, we were able to accomplish much of what Senate Bill 1 proposed. This includes allocating the voter-approved bonds from the Clean Ohio program, which support the redevelopment of abandoned industrial sites to get them back into productive use, as well as the preservation and development of recreational parks, farmland and green spaces.

The state transportation budget also provided us the opportunity to address how to ensure the infrastructure funding coming to Ohio as a part of the federal stimulus package could be spent on projects that would create jobs and stimulate economic activity. The Senate had previously passed Senate Bill 2, a stand-alone bill to allocate federal stimulus dollars to projects around the state. However, in working with the Ohio House, we agreed that to get those dollars into the economic stream as soon as possible, it made sense to do it in the already moving transportation budget. As part of the $774-million we allocated statewide, critical roadwork projects were funded locally to support the expansion of Nationwide Children's Hospital, our logistics hub at Rickenbacker Airport and improvements to local highways, roads and bridges.

While investing limited resources in areas that will boost our economy, we have also been working to reduce unnecessary government rules and regulations that drive up costs for businesses and make Ohio less competitive with other states. We passed Senate Bill 3, which would require regulatory agencies to review their regulations from an economic standpoint. That means eliminating unnecessary red tape and ensuring all fees and fines are in line with the actual cost of enforcement, instead of serving simply as a way to generate funds for the state on the backs of small businesses. These measures will help improve customer service and continue to make Ohio an attractive place for employers to locate and expand. Senate Bill 3 is currently pending in the Ohio House.

Finally, recognizing the importance of a ready work force to meet the demands of a changing economy, the Senate also is working to combat the "brain drain" and keep Ohio's best and brightest in state after they graduate. Though the availability of good jobs is the most important factor graduates consider in determining where to live, we recently passed Senate Bill 5 -- the Grants for Grads program -- in an effort to help recent college graduates by covering the cost of a down payment or closing costs on a home in Ohio. Grants for Grads would provide grants of up to $10,000, depending on the level of degree obtained, for up to 300 graduates who commit to living in Ohio for at least five years. It's a little extra incentive for them to settle in Ohio, which could also give a boost to our sagging housing industry in the process. Senate Bill 5 also is pending in the Ohio House.

Given the challenging economic times we are facing in Ohio, it is essential that we work together to invest our limited resources in the places that will provide the maximum benefit to our economy immediately. At the same time, we must continue our efforts to improve our overall business climate in ways that won't cost a lot of money, but will make a big difference in the long run.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have questions or concerns about this or any matter we are currently discussing at the Statehouse. My office can be reached by phone at (614) 466-5981, by e-mail at SD16@senate.state.oh.us, or by writing Ohio Sen. Jim Hughes, Statehouse Room 38, Columbus, OH 43215.

Jim Hughes represents the 16th Ohio Senate district.

Jim

Hughes