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State Sen. John Eklund has been spending the summer talking with residents, businesses and social service agencies in the 18th District about issues such as economic development, hydraulic fracturing and traffic.
Eklund, who lives in Chardon, was elected last November to represent the 18th District, which covers all of Portage County along with most of Geauga and Lake counties.
This summer he said he's "been getting the pulse of what they think are the important issues."
"Sometimes what people think is important in Columbus is not important in the 18th District," he said, such as traffic backups on U.S. 422 in Geauga.
He said he's interested in some regulation on the home repair industry, which has the highest number of consumer complaints to the Attorney General's office.
Eklund said he doesn't want to create a bureaucracy or burden on people who are trying to make a living. But, there also should be some way of assuring homeowners that a contractor is legitimate.
"There are many wonderful home repair businesses," he said, but scams "happen more often that they should in Ohio." He said he envisions some sort of simple state license "that demonstrates you have insurance and are bonded," he said. That way, he said "a homeowner only has to ask one question -- where's your license?"
Eklund said he is still studying the issue of expanding Medicaid coverage in Ohio.
"I'm still studying what are the potential consequences. I know there are great, great needs but I am also concerned about the cost to Ohioans," he said.
Studies have shown Ohio could have huge savings, in part by limiting the annual growth in Medicaid spending.
Gov. John Kasich has pushed for expansion to cover an estimated 270,000 Ohioans who lack insurance. That would be covered by federal funds, albeit on a gradually decreasing scale under the Affordable Care Act. Federal funding is to never drop below 90 percent.
But, Eklund said, opponents to expansion say the federal government could change that down the road and leave Ohio holding the bag. Eklund said legislators have to consider the fiscal consequences.
"Let's go into these things with our eyes wide open," he said.
Eklund said he's hearing a lot about hydraulic fracturing during his rounds of the district. He said he favored the governor's raising of the severance fee on gas and oil production, a move the Legislature rejected.
Eklund said townships and other local governments up through counties should give up hope the Local Government Fund will be restored.
"That won't happen," he said, despite the state's rainy day fund recovery to more than $1.48 billion. He said his concern is if state budget estimates are off as little as 5 percent, "we're in a $3 billion hole."
Giving local governments and schools incentives to cut costs by collaborative action is also high on Eklund's list. He noted Waterloo and Field districts sharing a treasurer, and cooperative spending by Streetsboro, Ravenna and Stow.
"At the end of the day, I think shared services is a fantastic way to go," he said.
He also said he favors incentives to encourage the merger of school districts to reduce costs. Rather than expect the state to order the merger of districts in financial difficulty, the state might set some funding incentives to encourage people to make the decision to merge on their own.
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