Friday, December 18, 2009

The Politics of Ohio's Budget Compromise

Republicans and Democrats can argue 'til their blue in the face about who "won" the budget debate, whether it's a tax delay or tax cut, or who caved on what.

But when it comes to the 2010 election, it's massively shortsighted to focus solely on the past 24 hours as all that matters.

What is significant is how the issue played over the course of time and what the public's ultimate perception is on the issue.

Let me use an example we all know plenty about - the health care reform debate in Congress.

Health care has been contentious since July and exploded in August. After looking at the latest opinion polls on the issue, it's fair to say that public opinion on health care reform is mostly anti-Democrat. Now, if I were a betting man, I'd say odds were in the Democrats favor that something will get passed. Once it's passed, will those voting in 2010 forget everything they learned about the issue since July, or will they focus solely on what happened on these few days in December and January to frame their opinion and influence their vote in 2010?

Obviously, the answer is that the collection of experiences over time will have a far greater impact on voters than the coverage passage obtains whenever it goes to the President for signature.

We have the same kind of thing going on in Ohio with the budget.

Since Strickland compromised his own principles and supported slots back in mid-June, coverage of the budget debate has been decidedly negative for the Governor. Saying otherwise simply ignores the facts.

This negative perception has been reflected in public opinion polls showing Strickland having the highest negative numbers of any polled statewide candidate. Sure the economy plays a large part in that, but without a doubt the massive coverage slots and the budget maintained over time played a large role.

Now what has surprised me has been the relatively poor coverage for Strickland of the budget deal from media across Ohio. I figured the Governor would get positive coverage for a day or two - but he didn't even get day one.

The opening paragraph in the Dispatch's article states:
Schools, libraries and other social services will not face further cuts, but many Ohioans will either pay more or get back less when they file their income taxes next year under a contentious plan to fix the $851 million budget shortfall.
They bring up that Ohioans will be paying more taxes. That's not what Strickland wanted to see mentioned.

WLWT Channel 5 led with the headline: Ohio Budget Deal Stops Income Tax Cut


And the AP's headline said: Ohio tax cut delay means less for taxpayers

Triple whammy.

If media is covering Strickland's glorious victory like this, imagine what millions of dollars in advertising from Kasich will be able to say in the Fall.

Now, this isn't to say Strickland won't get a positive editorial or three out of this. He likely will. But relative to the mountain of Strickland-centric negativity that has been repeatedly reenforced onto the electorate for months, a weekend of editorials will amount to a mere ant-hill of influence.

Strickland lost the budget battle months ago when he chose to push for slots rather than work with the Senate GOP to find acceptable cuts. Now, some Dems may blame the Senate GOP and say they weren't cooperating.

But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter who is at fault.

The polls prove that voters blame Strickland for Ohio's mess. And unless a game-changing event happens, and a balanced budget is not a game-changing event, the Governor will not be able to sway public opinion back towards him. He simply doesn't have the time or economic environment for that to happen.

And that's the way it is. Whether you like it or not.

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