Wednesday, May 11, 2011

City of Columbus
Protecting Charitable Rotary Accounts

When you go to renew your driver’s license or vehicle registration at your local registrar’s office, you are asked whether you would like to donate $1 to charitable organizations dedicated to serving the blind and encouraging organ donation.

Thanks to the generosity of Ohio motorists, the Save Our Sight Fund provides early detection of vision problems by supplying training, certification and equipment for vision screeners. The fund also provides protective eyewear for youth sports and school activities and develops eye health and safety programs for our schools. The Second Chance Trust Fund seeks to help solve the critical shortage of organ donors in Ohio by promoting organ donation.

These programs provide valuable services for the visually impaired and those waiting for an organ transplant. So you can imagine my surprise and outrage when I discovered a story in the Columbus Dispatch that revealed the Strickland Administration transferred $1.4 million from the Save Our Sight Fund and $1.3 million from the Second Chance Trust Fund to help balance the state budget. In both cases, the funds were taken from “rotary accounts” administered by the Ohio Department of Health.

Rotary accounts are used by state agencies and departments to collect fees such as professional license or certification renewals. They differ from state general revenue funds, which are generally comprised of proceeds from tax collections. While the state in the past has previously transferred funds from the various rotary accounts into the state General Revenue Fund, I found this case particularly appalling because the moneys involved came from the voluntary chartable donations of the public.

Although public disclosure of the Governor’s plan ultimately resulted in the money being returned, I believe the Governor’s attempt to use these charitable funds for purposes other than originally intended is a gross abuse of his authority and action needs to be taken to ensure this type of activity cannot occur in the future. That is why I recently introduced Senate Bill 185, which seeks to increase oversight and transparency related to all state rotary accounts.

Under Senate Bill 185, the director of the Office of Budget and Management and the Controlling Board would be prohibited from transferring money to the state’s General Revenue Fund from non-general revenue funds that include money from charitable donations. To help further increase transparency regarding all funds transfers, the bill requires the director to provide the Governor and legislative leaders with 90 days advance notice before a cash transfer is made.

Increasing the oversight and transparency of the use of rotary accounts is especially critical during the budgeting process, and given the challenging economic times we are currently facing, I believe lawmakers and taxpayers deserve to know when money from rotary accounts is being transferred and where the money originated.

The Governor enjoys a wide range of authority to ensure Ohio’s budget remains balanced; unfortunately, his willingness to use moneys donated by Ohioans for charitable purposes demonstrates the need for legislative action to ensure such incidents cannot occur in the future. Senate Bill 185 has been assigned to the Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee, and I will be sure to keep you updated on the progress of the bill as hearings begin in the coming weeks.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have questions or concerns about any state-related matter. You can reach my office by phone at (614) 466-9737, by e-mail at SD07@senate.state.oh.us or by writing State Senator Shannon Jones, Ohio Statehouse, 1 Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 43215. I look forward to hearing from you.

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