The campaign debate — and TV commercials — between Richard Cordray and Mike DeWine seem dominated by rape-kit testing, opioids, Issue 1 and ECOT.
But for many Ohioans, the kitchen-table issues of paying the bills, clothing their kids and buying groceries dominate their lives.
As Ohio prepares to elect its next governor on Nov. 6, the state remains afflicted with below-average job growth and stagnant wages for many Ohioans.
In a years-long trend, Ohio's gain of 67,200 jobs this year (through July) ranks 29th in the nation at 1.2-percent growth — a figure 30 percent below the national average.
Ohio's annual median household income grew last year by 1.1 percent to $54,021 — 36th among the states and $7,350 below the national figure.
And Ohioans' tax burden, as measured by the Tax Foundation, ranks 19th highest in the U.S. at 9.8 percent of income, with a per-person bill of $2,993 for income, sales and property taxes.
Cordray, the Democrat, and DeWine, the Republican, have similar positions on some aspects of taxation and how they would increase economic and job growth.
Employers talk of a bounty of job openings, citing a lack of needed job skills and, in some instances, the inability of applicants to come up clean on a drug test amid the opioid addiction crisis.
Both candidates stress a foremost need to address the "skills gap" and upgrade Ohio's workforce development efforts to help the unemployed and underemployed land work with livable wages.
DeWine says his "Ohio Prosperity Plan" would create regional job-training partnerships with businesses, educators and community leaders and work to ensure that high school students are either college ready or career ready when they graduate.
Ohio's attorney general, also a former U.S. senator, would reform occupational licensing to make it simpler for Ohioans to get jobs and fund "industry certificates" with quick, low-cost, job-training programs to give people skills to work in high-tech jobs.
Cordray also embraces a host of job-training opportunities with public and private partners to provide more two-year degrees, apprenticeships and more certification programs. "Instead of emphasizing flashy tax incentives focused solely on attracting out-of-state companies," Cordray said his administration will focus on improving worker skills.
The candidate, the attorney general prior to DeWine and former federal consumer watchdog, would appoint a "small business chief" to assist small- and medium-sized businesses in expanding and creating good-wage and good-benefit jobs.
DeWine also would create "opportunity zones" for distressed communities to help attract private investment, and would seek to change state law to provide state tax breaks and better align with federal tax-cut legislation to capture its full benefits. Allowing researchers at Ohio universities to own the intellectual property they create would attract more talent and research investment, DeWine said.
Asked whether state job-creation tax breaks are important incentives to help expanding and new businesses, DeWine's campaign said he would use them strategically. "The best tax incentive policy is to keep taxes fair and low for all people and business investment in Ohio," said campaign spokesman Josh Eck.
Cordray said he would "carefully review any tax incentives" to ensure they truly strengthen the economy and result in putting more money in the pockets of middle-class Ohioans.
Both candidates say they will retain Gov. John Kasich's signature JobsOhio, the state's privatized economic development nonprofit, but would seek more transparency and accountability from the enterprise, which is not subject to public-record laws. DeWine wants to see JobsOhio more involved in job training and in targeting distressed areas for new workplaces. Cordray wants the nonprofit to place greater emphasis on assisting and growing small- and medium-sized businesses as a leading source of new jobs.
Neither DeWine nor Cordray say they would raise Ohioans' taxes, which some advocates believe should be raised — or at least some tax breaks rescinded — to more fully fund social services and education.
"Lower tax rates make Ohio more attractive to people and new business investment," said DeWine spokesman Eck. "We don't need to turn back the clock and raise taxes on hard-working Ohioans or our job creators." DeWine is "committed to keeping taxes as low, predictable and as fair as possible to maximize job growth in Ohio, he added.
Cordray also nixed the idea of raising taxes. He wants to work with a legislative committee reviewing state tax breaks, which failed to meet a deadline for its report, "to finish a thorough review of our tax structure" to ensure it is fair and targeted for maximum return in jobs and investment.
Cordray believes the state can hold off increases in local property taxes by channeling more state aid to local communities to ease the local tax burden on middle-class property owners. Lawmakers have slashed local government funding and made other tax moves that have cost local entities more than $1 billion a year.
"Out state legislators in Columbus have continued to pad the rainy day fund by draining resources from Ohio's communities," Cordray said, suggesting that the withdrawal of money from Kasich's sacrosanct rainy day account — funded at its near maximum at $2.7 billion — is in play. Cordray is promising to restore state funding and "end the war on local government and community services."
DeWine, like Kasich, believes the rainy day fund's intended and best purpose is as a savings account that can be tapped during economic downturns and depressed tax collections to avoid or soften any budget cuts. However, DeWine added, "I'm not saying I would never touch it.