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City Council Election 2013: Greg Lawson

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On November 5th, Columbus residents will be given the choice to fill three seats at Columbus City Council. Three democratic incumbents are being challenged by three republican and independent candidates.

To help our readers make the most informed decisions, we’re publishing the answers to a Q&A series from each of the participating candidates. Below is our full interview with Greg Lawson:

Q: First things first — The Columbus City Schools Levy is the biggest local issue on the ballot this year. Regardless of whether or not the levy passes, what would you say is the biggest problem with the Columbus school system today, and how best can it be addressed and corrected?

A: There are several major challenges. The biggest challenge is unfortunately not something we can fix through the school system itself — stable families that can help assure that students enter the classroom ready to learn. Absent this, there is no amount of money, and we already spend nearly $15,000 per student (state and local share), that can solve our problems.

As for what we CAN do at the school level, we need accountability. The data rigging scandal still casts a terrible light on the district and it should not be swept under the rug just so we can pass a levy. Someone needs to pay from a legal perspective. Additionally, I believe we should move in the direction that Cleveland schools has moved with a merit-based pay system for teachers. I know many teachers question this, but I firmly believe it can be done fairly. If Cleveland can go down this path, we can too in Columbus.

Q: The City of Columbus has fared better than many other regional cities during the economic recession and job growth reports this year have shown that the city has been outpacing much of the rest of the state/nation. What else needs to be done to further local job growth initiatives to continue to strengthen and diversify the local economy?

A: We should roll the income tax back to where it was before the hike in 2009 and go through our permitting processes. Once we replenish the rainy day fund, at around $75 million, I believe it is prudent to roll the tax back. The City shouldn’t just keep the money because it can. This will also help the smaller business owners who pay their business tax through their income taxes.

Also, we need to be sure our permitting processes for construction and other things are not too onerous. This also leads to problems for smaller businesses. I understand that Columbus does well for the big employers and I am glad for it. However, we could do far more for the little guy that doesn’t have an army of lawyers standing by to look after them.

We also can’t forget that Central Ohio is slowly watching its tax burden increase. If the school levy passes, it’s 9 more mills. The state just raised the state sales tax rate and the County Commissioners raised the county sales tax. So its not just the City tax we need to be worried about now, it is the cumulative result of all of the taxes pancaking on top of each other that will become the problem over the next decade.

Q: I recently returned from the CEOs for Cities Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and discovered that this Dayton-sized city has multiple incubator facilities (retail incubatormedical incubatoridea incubatordesign/innovation incubator, etc) located within blocks of each other Downtown, and developed largely with private-sector funding. How can Columbus better connect corporate partners with entrepreneurial efforts to better boost small business creation and development?

A: I think Columbus is actually not doing too bad with our incubators like TechColumbus. I think a constant education about what is being developed is important, but most of all, I think we really need to be careful we don’t watch our overall tax burden begin driving folks away. Again, this is not going to be an overnight phenomenon, but if we are lackadaisical about this, it will catch up to us over time.

Q: What do you feel are the most pressing crime/safety issues in Columbus in 2013, what areas of Columbus need the most police attention, and what other solutions should be implemented for combatting these problems?

A: The Near East Side has ongoing challenges. The community policing method that the City uses continues to make sense, though I am still a bit mystified about some of the reorganization that was done a few years back that altered the precincts (after the income tax hike I might add). However, we should invest in the police force and continue a high presence in the Cleveland Avenue corridor and the areas with higher reported crimes. Additionally, we need create jobs in these areas. With high double-digit unemployment in these areas, as opposed to the relatively low six-some-percent elsewhere in Columbus, we can see there are neighborhoods that are being left behind by the current Council.

Q: Columbus has seen the launch of multiple new transportation modes in 2013. The CoGo Bike Share service seems to be well received, COTA bus ridership is up, and not-yet-launched services including Car2Go and Uber have received early fanfare. Are these options good enough for a city rapidly growing residentially denser in the urban core, or is Columbus ready to begin planning rail-based transit in the near future?

A: I am not a big fan of rail-based transit in Columbus. A true high-speed rail that could transit across the country might, and I emphasize might, make sense. But something only in Central Ohio I think is not needed given the availability of COTA and other options.

Q: While the full impact of Obamacare is still yet to be seen upon the national rollout of key components in 2014, do you think that the policies will have a net positive or negative impact locally on the health and well-being of Columbus residents?

A: I believe it will be a big net-negative. I could cite any number of problems with the Act from my experience analyzing the policy closely at the Buckeye Institute. The bottom line is that it will raise costs on younger, healthier people in order to cross-subsidize others and will fundamentally destroy many full time jobs. There are other things that should have been done to create better access to health care. Sadly, Republicans utterly failed when they had a chance to do something so now there is a sense that “at least somebody tried something.” The tragedy is that what is being tried is not good and will cost a lot more than people think while driving people out of full time employment as private businesses slash hours to avoid misguided penalties.

Q: The Freedom to Marry campaign has made strides in 2013 toward a Nov 2014 Ohio ballot issue, which is likely to be a highly prominent issue next year. Do you support the Freedom to Marry campaign in Ohio, and do you feel it would have a positive or negative impact on Columbus?

A: I do not support the effort. I support traditional marriage. While not all traditions should be embraced just because they have been around for centuries, I am a conservative. This means I believe that while change can be a good thing, I respect history and I respect the accumulated wisdom of centuries. I have yet to convinced how redefining a centerpiece of Western Civilization is a good thing that won’t erode stabilizing influences for our youth and posterity over time.

Again, one of our greatest challenges is understanding how in an age of instant gratification, long-term issues can have unforeseen and problematic impacts and should not be ignored simply because they fall outside an election cycle.

Q: Last but not least — What is the most positive aspect of life in Columbus Ohio right now, and what are you most excited about or inspired by for the near future?

A: Columbus is an oasis of prosperity in Ohio, which as a state lost more private sector jobs between 2000 and 2010 than any state except Michigan. So there is a lot to build upon here. There is quality entertainment, housing, and great parks. I am excited about all of this and believe if we help raise some of the left behind neighborhoods I mentioned earlier, Columbus really can become a top 10 city nationwide.

For more information, visit www.lawsonforcolumbus.com.

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