State Sen. Joe Schiavoni said Thursday that southeast Ohio has been left out of the equation when it comes to investment from the state, and if he is elected governor next year he will change that.
Schiavoni, a Democrat from Boardman who is also an Ohio University alum, is seeking his party’s nomination to run for Ohio governor in 2018.
Schiavoni took a tour of southeast Ohio on Thursday. The tour started with a roundtable discussion at Tecumseh Theater in Shawnee (in Perry County, north of Nelsonville) about sustainable development in Appalachia.
He then attended a roundtable discussion in Nelsonville about the opioid epidemic before meeting with the OU College Democrats and going to Little Fish Brewery in Athens for a public meet and greet. Schiavoni ended his tour Thursday evening with a speech to Meigs County Democrats at the Carpenter’s Local Union Hall in Pomeroy.
In an interview Thursday, Schiavoni said that in Shawnee he met with a group of energetic young people working on community and economic development who discussed how to use the natural assets of southeast Ohio.
“We have beautiful waterways. We have beautiful trails. We have a national (forest). We have state parks that surround this area,” he said. “It’s about making a further investment in the natural assets we have to give young people opportunities to stay in communities like Athens and Nelsonville.”
In Nelsonville, Schiavoni said he spoke with Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith and addiction service professionals about the opioid epidemic.
“That’s always a tough issue to talk about but it reinforced again the need for investment from the state into the counties,” he said, pointing to a bill he proposed six months ago that would allocate 10 percent of Ohio’s rainy-day fund to invest in addiction services through local governments, rehabilitation, housing, job training and law enforcement.
At OU, Schiavoni said he talked with students, professors and deans about education policy, including higher education and K-12.
“The cookie-cutter approach from Columbus where you just put a spreadsheet together and send it out to all the schools, that doesn’t work,” he said. “You have to go out into community by community to see what the needs of the people are and how to address them, not just by throwing money at the problem but by finding ways to work with locals to create solutions.”
The professors and deans spoke with Schiavoni about the need for partnerships between the university and local non-profit organizations and businesses to help grow the region.
“OU can’t do it alone. OU needs some investment from the state to shore up the resources,” he said. “They’re happy to be the facilitators and have people from all over this area use their branches for job-training programs, and programs for high schools and elementary schools, but they need a little bit of help and structure from the state.”
Schiavoni has visited Athens and southeast Ohio about three times in the last several months and much of the rest of the state this year as well.
After touring struggling communities in the region and across the state, Schiavoni said it’s time for a shift in priorities in Columbus.
“The Republican governor with the Republican majority in the Ohio House and Senate prioritize tax cuts for the highest earners. That’s their priority. Every time we do the budget, there’s a billion-dollar tax cut for the highest earners,” he said, also noting tax loopholes for companies.
The bills Schiavoni has proposed for broadband expansion, clean-water restoration, the cleanup of brownfields for redevelopment and a variety of other things, he said, would be paid for by closing the “LLC Loophole” for limited-liability corporations.
Closing that loophole would bring about $1.5 billion into state coffers each year, he said, money that could be used to invest in the people of Ohio.
“That money goes out the door every day into high earners’ pockets and it doesn’t trickle back like they say it’s supposed to,” he said. “The people are saying, why are our roads a mess? Why are our schools underfunded? Why is this opioid epidemic a problem? Well, it’s because there’s no money for anybody to do anything.”
Schiavoni said that it’s time to stop this type of tax cutting and start to invest in Ohio.
“At the end of the day, this is about listening to people and bringing their voices to the Statehouse,” he said.