COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich told a group of 200 business leaders Wednesday that Ohio is going in the right direction and “now is the time to double down.”
To do that, Kasich outlined a variety of plans for 2014 including more money to improve Ohio's infrastructure, curbing costs for health care, new anti-drug and poverty initiatives, and possibly another tax cut.
Breaking from recent tradition, where Kasich and top GOP lawmakers have hosted reporters at the governor's mansion for a year-end news conference, this year's event at the Renaissance Downtown was hosted by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
Kasich, House Speaker William G. Batchelder of Medina and Senate President Keith Faber of Celina highlighted the private-sector job growth under the governor — nearly 175,000 jobs since January of 2011. However, that number discounts the loss of government jobs during that span, which puts a sizable dent in the state's overall numbers.
The state also has experienced rising unemployment and stagnant job growth over the past several months, and ranks 43rd in growth rate over the past 12 months, according to federal-government data compiled by Policy Matters Ohio. New numbers for state jobs are due on Friday.
“I'll be the first to say even though we are doing better, better isn't good enough,” Faber said, just before announcing the proposed expansion of Ohio's largest public-works program — the State Capital Improvement Program.
A resolution introduced in the Senate yesterday would place before voters in May a renewal of the program, which has been in existence since 1987 and renewed twice. It would increase its current annual funding from $150 million up to $200 million over 10 years.
The funds come from bonds backed by the state's general revenue to help counties, cities, villages, townships and water-sewer districts pay for large infrastructure projects.
The state, with a nearly $1.5 billion rainy-day fund, would pay for the expansion out of existing tax revenue.
“There will be people working as a result of this … but our biggest challenge is to move the private sector and have people continue to expand and invest in our state,” Kasich said.
He told the audience that “if you want Ohio to move faster, we have to reduce this personal income tax.”
The governor wants to move Ohio's top tax bracket below 5 percent; he signed a 10 percent income-tax cut for all Ohioans as part of the $62 billion state budget in June.
He called JobsOhio, his privatized development agency, the “most important economic-development tool in America” and promised new jobs announcements soon.
The Ohio Democratic Party sent out a fundraising email yesterday in response, calling that tool “broken” and referencing the 427,000 Ohioans who are unemployed.
Kasich said he spoke with a “high level” Obama administration official about Dayton's application to host one of six test sites nationally for unmanned aerial vehicles, urging that the decision be made “on what makes sense,” not on politics. A decision could come this week — one that's potentially worth thousands of jobs for the Dayton region.
Kasich outlined a blooming anti-drug program in schools in which the State Highway Patrol will work with pro-sports teams to “take the program to every school” and give students “a reason to say no” to drugs. No further details were available.
He said his administration was working with insurance companies and health-care providers to drive down costs through “payment reform” in a few areas, and he said “we need to figure out a way to incentivize people back to work” who have been receiving social-welfare assistance for long periods.
The governor also said Ohio has an “issue with image” and that L Brands chief executive Les Wexner has agreed to consult on a marketing plan for the state.
“I don't know that we're going to have Victoria Secret-type marketing plan for Ohio, but it isn't a bad thought,” Kasich said. “Talk about cool and exciting, we'll see.”