By Gene Krebs. On Saturday morning I spoke to the Ohio Township Association at their annual conference. There were about 200 trustees and fiscal officers in attendance. During my speech I explained that Ohio needs to make major changes in the way we govern ourselves in order to stay competitive in a global economy. We need to adapt. Ohio’s current governance structure, with 88 counties, 938 municipalities, 1,308 townships, 668 school districts, and 700 special districts is vast and fractured. Only six states have more governments per square mile than we do. This structure of governance was laid out when we were a predominantly horse and buggy economy; county lines were drawn so one could travel to and from the county seat on their horse in one day. This is clearly no longer the case. Instead, we are hemmed in by old governance structures. To illustrate how rapidly times are changing, and how urgently we need to adjust in order to keep up, I used this frame:
How many of you in the audience age 50 and over, and willing to admit it, were raised in a household where your family car had air conditioning? Let me give you a broad brush statement, you probably drove to today’s meeting a car that gives you a higher standard of living than the house in which you were raised. Leather seats. Heated leather seats. GM has cars with cooled leather seats. A better stereo system than we ever enjoyed in our youth, a TV the same size as the one we enjoyed growing up, but this one comes in color, and the telephone party line many of us were raised on, versus the ever present cell/phone PDA. In short, how we live now bears no resemblance of how we lived a few short years ago. And just so the younger people in the room can be also relate to these changes, realize that today's elementary schools are full of children who have never seen a phone attached to a wall. See how quickly things have and are changing?
The main takeaway message is that even though we have adapted to change in other areas of our life, we haven’t made the same adjustments when it comes to our governance structures. This matters because it costs us money by doubling some costs and forfeiting economies of scale. But it also costs us in opportunity. Instead of cooperating and competing for jobs and economic prosperity around the world, we compete with ourselves locally. We need to function as regions to capture the opportunities of the global economy. As regions, Ohio can’t be beat and we can compete with anyone. Greater Ohio Policy Center is a resource available to assist with this transition. But the key is that we need to acknowledge that the status quo from our past will no longer work in the future. Ohio needs to make some major changes in order to stay competitive, and the time to act is now.