“Rahm — I need $5 billion”

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, according to The Washington Post, left that message  recently on soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s phone answering machine. Couldn’t help thinking about that message — and the financial mess facing Ohio and the nation — as I was running this morning. By the way. I was messing around with Twitter (@rsjewell) at 4 a.m. and forgot to check the weather report. Wow. It was almost like winter out there.

Anyway — back to dialing for dollars. Those of us living in Ohio know only too well that we have been facing a recession for years, well before the feds got the message that the economy was fundamentially unsound. We’ve lost 100,000 manufacturing jobs in the Buckeye state last year alone — and unfortunately, it looks like things are going to get worse. A story in USAToday this morning forecasts that unemployment could get “truly gruesome,” hitting 10 percent and even more if you look at the so-called underemployed and those who just give up looking for work. Ohio isn’t going to go against that trend.

The point. Strickland is going to have to take a sharp knife and start slicing the state’s budget — even beyond the $1.9 billion already cut. From The Washington Post article:

“We’re not crying wolf. This is real,” Strickland said in an interview in his statehouse office, pointing to charts that project the most serious erosion of state income in 40 years and a two-year budget deficit of $7.3 billion. Revenue shortfalls in the upcoming two-year budget could amount to about 25 percent of the state’s discretionary spending.

And this is going to touch education and I expect just about everything else. The Akron Beacon Journal reported this morning that Kent State will lose $460,800 and the University of Akron $342,500 as part of an across-the-state reduction in support to higher education. More state funding reductions are certain to follow — with I expect at some point the resulting pressure to increase student tuition and fees.

Clearly, we are in a situation now where we need thoughtful leadership and timely, effective communication. That hasn’t always been on display in Columbus. We also need Strickland to step up and let everyone know — repeatedly — how tough things are and what the plan is for managing our way through this recession. No easy answers here either. Can’t increase revenues via tax hikes — not during a recession and not when Obama is making tax cuts the centerpiece of his stimulus plan. So prudent management and stewardship of taxpayer money is key.

And it’s a time when administrators at public universities and colleges — and school systems in general — need to manage resources wisely and recognize that there isn’t going to be any blank checks coming there way anytime soon. That’s the point I was trying to make yesterday during the post about merit pay for public school teachers. Sounds like a good idea. But realistic and doable? And I know this is symbolic — but senior administrators at all Ohio public universities, colleges and school systems should pass on pay and benefit increases.

Yet saying all that — maybe Rahm will check his voice messages and figure out a way to send Ted the needed $5 billion.

Nah, probably not.

Besides Ohio is in the bailout queue with at least one other suitor for federal funds. And one with a much higher profile — the porn industry.

CNN reported yesterday (and it was all over Twitter) that “Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis said Wednesday they will request that Congress allocate $5 billion for a bailout of the adult entertainment industry.”

“The take here is that everyone and their mother want to be bailed out from the banks to the big three,” said Owen Moogan, spokesman for Larry Flynt. “The porn industry has been hurt by the downturn like everyone else and they are going to ask for the $5 billion. Is it the most serious thing in the world? Is it going to make the lives of Americans better if it happens? It is not for them to determine.”

Note to gov: You’re screwed.

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