Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Thursday, August 10

Secty of State: Brunner (D) Proposes "Better Lives, Better Ohio" Index

At Tuesday's campaign appearance in Solon, Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) praised secretary of state candidate Jennifer Brunner (D-Columbus) for wanting to "make sure that you are connected to your government" by creating a "public index" of information about living conditions in the state. I was a little mystified by this statement because I had not heard or read anything about such an index previously. As Brunner was leaving for her next appearance, however, she slipped me a folded campaign flyer that turned out to contain a description of her proposal.

In broad terms, Brunner says that "[t]o improve the lives of everyday Ohioans we serve, we must identify and index those factors necessary to help them reach their full potential. As the keeper of Ohio's records, the Secretary of State is in the best position to do this work." Specifically, the flyer describes the need for a "Better Lives, Better Ohio" index by linking the well-being of Ohio's workforce to the productivity needed to attract new jobs and growth to the state. At present, "Ohio does not maintain a central repository of information that measures and tracks Ohio wage earner and family well-being." Because that information is "scattered throughout various State and federal agencies," potential employers have difficulty identifying "where [Ohio] stands on factors that promote security, freedom and opportunity."

Responding to the need, Brunner proposes to "create a wage earner and family well being index-annual report" that collects local, state and federal statistics. The goal is to replace "anecdotal evidence" with "hard numbers and facts" in order to identify and define problems facing Ohioans, so "we can learn where policy and budget changes are needed" to "create a productive workforce" and thus attract new employers and jobs. The index "will provide reliable and accurate information to legislators and policymakers, and by tracking the index over time, promote greater budget and policymaking accountability."

The flyer lists 21 "indicators of Ohioans' well-being," including many relating to child welfare (infant health, adoption rates, children in financial need, teen drug and alcohol use, teen birth rates), education (head start usage, high school graduation rate, availability of college), employment (employment rates, wages, family income), health (youth mental health, health care coverage, life expectancy, availability of mental health services), and crime (incidence of violent crime, alcohol related accidents, repeat crime). It is unclear if the idea is to combine these factors in some way or to assemble separate rankings in each.

As far as how the index would be implemented and used, the flyer states that "in the first 90 days" Brunner will convene "business, non-profit, labor, government and university leaders" in order to "define a continuum for measuring" Ohioans' well-being. In other words, this collaboration would "define the indicators needed" for such measurement and establish the standards for distinguishing a community that is "in crisis" from one that is merely "stable" from one that is "thriving." As Secretary of State, Brunner will then collect and publish the data annually and "provide them to the Governor and the Ohio Legislature for improved budgeting and policymaking" and for the public to "gauge the effectiveness of State and federal policies."

The proposal seems a little vague in certain respects and raises a lot of practical questions (like how you get a collaboration that includes leaders from competing camps like business and labor to actually agree on standards), but it seems to have two main objectives both of which I heartily applaud. The objective of generating "hard numbers and facts" to form the basis of legislative policy is certainly welcome. The standard method of operation for our Republican-dominated legislature has been to drum up fictional social crises based on anecdotal evidence (voter fraud, for example, which in fact has been insignificant, or claiming that Ohio has the highest tax rates in the nation when the most accurate measurements indicate otherwise, or the specter of supposed harm from sex education or adoption by same-sex couples or flag burning or whatever) and push through legislation on that basis. Creating the expectation that legislators should hew to higher standard of factual basis for policy would be a huge improvement.

The other objective, creating a "report card" for government as far as improving the quality of life for Ohians, is even better. There is nothing more absurd than the pretense by the party in power that the economy is anything but a shambles, or that divisive social initiatives are more important than addressing basic economic and social needs. Clearing away the fog of ignorance and disinformation is the first step to achieving real accountability, and accountability should be the rallying cry of all Democrats.


At 7:38 AM, Anonymous Anastasia said...

I'm still studying her proposal but I'm pretty sure the intention isn't just to create some big overall score but to give people useful, specific information in each category. So there wouldn't be just an "education" score but rather information on, say, the high school graduation rate or the number of high school students who go on to college.

Also, I don't think there'd be an issue of getting people to "agree" on the information because from what I could tell, she would use information from already existing reliable sources who are doing the research rather than creating an entire reesearch department within the SoS's office. I think she's mainly looking at this as gathering already-existing information, much of it already gathered by government agencies and paid for by the taxpapers, in one readily accessible place.

Anyway, that's my take on it. I hope to get more information on this soon, maybe at the campaign volunteer meeting Sunday. (I am volunteering in Brunner's campaign). I think it's a great positive idea. And with the state in the shape it is, it would be disappointing if business and labor groups, among others, didn't see the common benefit in sitting down together. I like that aspect because this state (and country) have run too long on divisive politics and I sense people are sick of it.

At 2:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that Brunner is confusing the Secretary of State's office with the Department of Development. Once again, she is proposing the duplication of an entire division in the Department of Development. All of this information is in the Research Division and accessible at www.odod.state.oh.us/research/.


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