Lima Calling jobs our greatest moral purpose and defending a two-year spending plan that he says will ensure the state remains on the economic upswing, Gov. John Kasich outlined his vision for Ohio Feb. 19 in Lima.
My mission is to make sure that everybody in our state has a chance to realize their hopes and dreams and that their families can do much better, the governor said. Because its not good enough for some to do well while we leave others behind. We must [work] every day to make sure that everyone has a chance in Ohio.
He added, We are succeeding here in Ohio turning our state around, and it is fantastic.
Kasich didnt tread too much new ground before an audience of more than 1,700 lawmakers, state officials and other invited guests gathered in an auditorium just off the northwestern Ohio citys central square.
He reviewed statistics hes repeated to audiences since taking office how Ohio is now tops in the Midwest in job creation, how 120,000-plus new jobs have been created and how theres now $1.9 billion in the formerly depleted rainy day fund.
He touted his administrations policy decisions controlling Medicaid spending, reducing the size of state government, lowering taxes, refunding overpayments to businesses, establishing the JobsOhio nonprofit to coordinate the states economic development programs.
He talked about visiting the state as a child, the promised land across the state border from his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pa.
I fell in love, Kasich said. I sensed Ohios excitement then. I felt its opportunity. I knew Ohio was going to be my home Its just so awesome here.
He added, Ohio is a land of hope and opportunity, realized dreams for our families. Were safe. Were friendly. Were filled with the potential to pursue our passions. We take care of our neighbors. Ohio is a place where we can work, contribute, build a better community. We can be a shining example.
As he has in multiple appearances since unveiling his biennial budget earlier this month, Kasich explained his plan for a small business and personal income tax cut, sales tax cut and broadening to include services and the oil and gas tax hike. He defended the latter to lawmakers, including Republican members who continue to voice concern about the proposal.
He also asked the GOP-controlled legislature to move quickly on his plan to leverage billions of dollars for road and bridge projects using the Ohio Turnpike.
He sought backing for his school funding package, which he said will provide increased state support for the poorest school districts. The richest districts, he said, would receive about $110 per pupil, while the poorest would receive $7,500 per pupil.
And he lobbied hard for an extension of Medicaid benefits for more needy Ohioans, saying federal dollars paid by Ohio taxpayers will go to another state if the eligibility levels are not raised.
Im not a supporter of Obamacare, Kasich said, adding later, I dont believe in the individual mandate. I dont like a lot of the programs that are going to drive insurance rates up. But in this case, extending Medicaid benefits will help us on many levels, including the positive impact this decision can have on the mentally ill and the addicted.
Kasich urged lawmakers to stay focused on the mountaintop and move his two-year, $63 billion budget despite calls from opposition to abandon the tax package, school funding reform and other provisions.
Should we rest on our laurels? he asked. Should we put the state on cruise control? Were going to keep our foot on the gas in this administration, and we hope you will join us The only thing that will stop us, ladies and gentlemen, is the fear of change, the fear of big ideas. Lets not go there.
As he did last year, Kasich presented several Courage Awards, including one honoring the teachers and staff at Chardon High School Feb. 19 with one of three Courage Medals, marking their response to a shooting last year that left three teens dead and three others injured.
Theyre unbelievable, the governor said, drawing on memories of his own parents death. Its not easy there, even today. Its still tough, and theyre trying to put the pieces back together We know theyre never going to be quite the same Theyre going to heal because theyre tough and compassionate and smart. Theyre going to make it, but what courage they showed on that fateful day, and what courage theyve shown ever since.
Other medals went to the late Neil Armstrong, the Apollo 11 astronaut and first man to step onto the surface of the moon, and Sondra Williams, an autistic woman and author who serves as director of the Autism Research Institutes youth division.
Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle were supportive of some of Kasichs ideas but questioned others.
Republican leaders of the Ohio House and Senate were complimentary of the governors tone and vision but noncommittal on his tax reform, Medicaid expansion and school funding proposals.
This is a man who is looking ahead to our states future, said Speaker Bill Batchelder, a Republican from Medina. I think its important that as he went through those remarks, everyone realized that there was bipartisan recognition of what he was asking for, and I think it was an exciting evening for all of Ohio.
Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina whose district includes Lima, added, It is always a pleasure to work with a governor who is willing to lead. You got to see a bit of John Kasichs heart tonight Were going to study the governors proposals in great detail, great enthusiasm, and frankly we look forward to working with the governor.
Rep. Ron Amstutz, a Republican from Wooster who heads the powerful finance committee, called the speech vintage Kasich.
Hes very full of energy and ideas, he said. Hes a strong leader. And generally, the legislative process works the best when we have a governor who is presenting a lot of ideas that we can work off. I think some of them will need shaped, but I think hes given us a package of proposals that he addressed today that we can work with and help make the state better
Statehouse Democrats, meanwhile, remained supportive of Kasichs plan to expand medical coverage and other services to the needy, but they remained opposed to other parts of his biennial budget.
The tax cuts for small businesses is something that would be beneficial for our state, said Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat from Boardman. But when you add all this up and he says the most important thing is K-12 funding, the numbers dont reflect that. Its OK and its nice to give big happy speeches, but when youve you got to go through a very detailed budget, Im not sure hes going to [gain approval for] all the things that he spoke about tonight.
Rep. Ronald Gerberry, a Democrat from Austintown, echoed those concerns, saying schools in his district will have to seek more tax levies, with no increase in state funding.
Well over 300 school districts are getting absolutely no [additional] money in the next two years, he said. How is K-12 so important if well over 300 school districts arent getting an extra dime? ... Weve gone from 89 cents in the rainy day fund to $2 billion. At the same time, we have school districts and county governments and township governments throughout the state of Ohio placing tax levies because theyre broke.
Rep. Bob Hagan, a Democrat from Youngstown, added, The tax system that hes trying to implement is so confusing. Its all over the place Increasing sales tax is certainly going to hurt the people in my district.
State Senator Frank LaRose (R- Copley) issued the following statement in response to the State of the State address:
Weve made great progress over the past two years in streamlining government and improving our business climate. In his speech tonight, the Governor reminded us that we must remain focused on creating an environment that supports a vibrant and robust workforce if we are to continue moving Ohio forward.
The Governors budget proposal once again contains a series of bold and innovative ideas for improving Ohio, and has sparked a series of conversations across our state that will continue for the next several months. I look forward to hearing from my constituents and all Ohioans as my Senate colleagues and I study the complex set of reforms and policy changes that have been proposed by the Governor. Im confident that by working together, we will pass a balanced and fiscally-responsible budget that keeps Ohios recovery on track and propels us towards an even brighter future.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.
In the accompanying video, Ohio Senate President Keith Faber and House Speaker Bill Batchelder react to Gov. John Kasichs State of the State speech.
In the second video, House Minority Leader Armond Budish responds to Gov. John Kasichs State of the State speech.