LIMA — Gov. John Kasich promoted the state’s successes during his State of the State address Tuesday night and said leaders cannot be afraid of “big ideas” to move the state forward.
Weeks after Kasich proposed a two-year budget with sweeping policy changes, he said Ohio needs to embrace change to lead the nation, and officials could not be satisfied with an improving economy.
“We must not fear big ideas. We must embrace them. Let’s debate them. That’s the fun part of being in the government. Debate them without the personal attack. Debate them on their merits, but embrace them, because at the end of the day big ideas renew us. It will restore our youth; it will give us excitement,” Kasich said.
Kasich spoke from Veterans Memorial Civic Center, after a day of nearly 40 state government meetings, tours and hearings with cabinet members and legislators in Lima. This is the second year Kasich, a Republican, moved the State of the State, which is delivered to a joint session of the Legislature, outside Columbus. A year ago, he went to Steubenville.
The Republican governor’s proposed budget includes a 20 percent cut to the state income tax, a 50 percent cut to small business income tax, a cut to the state sales tax, a broadening of that sales tax on a long list of new services never before taxed, an increase on the severance tax for oil and gas drilling, increased use of student vouchers, a new public school funding formula and the use of federal Medicaid dollars to increase health care coverage for the state’s working poor.
Democrats and Republicans, who control the House and Senate, have challenged and opposed many of the ideas. The General Assembly must pass a balanced budget by June 30. The two chambers have just begun to take up the budget.
After the speech, Democratic leaders from the House and Senate said Kasich has slashed funding for schools and communities, and that many in Ohio, such as minorities, are not benefiting from the state’s economic recovery.
“The governor talked about a variety of things with great flowery language, but when you look behind it, the facts simply don’t support his statements,” said House Minority Leader Armond Budish, D-Beechwood.
Crouse Performance Hall, which seats about 1,800, was nearly full for the governor’s hour-long address. Many times Republicans in the legislature and other friendly conservatives loudly cheered Kasich’s talk about lowering the income tax, small business taxes and eliminating the estate tax. Many in the audience sat on their hands, however, when Kasich pushed for an expansion of Medicaid in Ohio.
Kasich was most passionate while pleading his case to accept $2.4 billion in Medicaid funding from the federal government, trying to persuade many in the hall. While he continued to oppose many aspects of President Barack Obama’s health care reform, Kasich said he saw the Medicaid issue as bringing Ohio’s tax dollars back to the state. He referenced his personal faith and said he lived those ideals “not just on Sunday, but every day.” That meant he could not ignore the state’s poor, disabled and mentally ill.
Legislative Democrats applauded Kasich’s decision and said they wanted to help get the measure passed, but House and Senate Republicans remain uncommitted. House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, and Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, both said they remained concerned about the federal government’s ability to keep its end of the funding bargain. They said it is a complicated issue they intended to fully analyze.
On school funding, Kasich said he has created a plan “driven by the needs of students, not by the needs of adults.” The plan would make more voucher money available to low-income families and families who live in failing school districts. He also said the plan overall increases K-12 funding beyond where it was before he took office.
Kasich said poorer districts receive more than wealthier ones, and the formula helps schools address specific needs. In recent weeks, however, superintendents across the state questioned how Kasich’s formula arrived as specific dollar amounts for their districts and said they felt misled from his initial description of the plan.
Kasich said the state needed to continue to reform its tax code to help foster job growth, especially by small businesses. He also defended his proposal for an increased severance tax, saying currently oil companies are paying pennies of tax on a $100 barrel of oil, and a modest increase of the tax wouldn’t dissuade companies from drilling in the eastern side of the state.
Kasich did not mention his proposal to apply a new sales tax to a sprawling host of services such as movie tickets, professional services of lawyers or accountants, repairs and construction, digital purchases such as music or books, and advertising.
Batchelder was skeptical following the speech, saying he’s seen it tried in other states, and it’s been repealed before it was implemented.