Although JobsOhio objects — and Gov. John Kasich is likely to do so as well — the Ohio Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure sought by state Auditor Dave Yost that would authorize his office to look over the shoulder of the privatized economic-development entity.
An amendment incorporated into a bill Wednesday would permit the auditor's office to play a role in outlining the scope of performance audits and give it access to the work papers produced by private accounting firms conducting the audits of the nonprofit.
Republican Yost long has lobbied for increased accountability from and oversight of JobsOhio. The entity was exempted from public-records laws and government oversight when it was created to supplant the state Development Department in 2015 and was granted a lease of the state's liquor-sales operation to finance its operations.
"JobsOhio is a quasi-public agency that exists to serve a public purpose for Ohioans," Yost said. "The people of Ohio deserve a seat at the table. This amendment ensures that any performance audit of JobsOhio is completely independent."
The language, which advances to the House for consideration, would require performance audits of JobsOhio every four years beginning in 2021 under written agreements to include the auditor's office.
Yost audited JobsOhio's finances in its first year before Kasich and Republican legislators agreed to forbid further public audits. He still supports a public audit of the nonprofit's spending, but he has not persuaded lawmakers to give the auditor's office that authority.
The required performance audit would examine the cost and efficiency of JobsOhio's operations by examining factors that the auditor would be allowed to help craft, such as the average cost of each created or retained job.
Kasich's office, as is its practice, declined to comment on legislation pending before the General Assembly. However, the term-limited governor has been protective of his creation.
JobsOhio officials did not bite their tongue.
"JobsOhio is a private, nonprofit corporation and should not be subject to legislation mandating an audit from the state," said spokesman Matthew Englehart. "Legislation is unnecessary because of our board's commitment to corporate governance and because a performance assessment will be completed periodically without a legislative mandate."
The nonprofit's board of directors authorized a performance audit late last year that is underway, Englehart said. He said Yost's office declined an offer of a role in the review under a memorandum of understanding.
Yost, who is running for attorney general against Democrat Steve Dettelbach, said the performance audit that is underway lacks accountability.
"In this arrangement, the audit firm answers to JobsOhio and not the people of Ohio," he said. "JobsOhio exists for the people to create jobs; it's a public purpose."
The major parties' gubernatorial candidates, Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray, have said they would retain JobsOhio but believe its operations should be more transparent and subject to increased public accountability.