The Akron Beacon
Republican leaders at the Statehouse were busy applying the rhetorical screws to Auditor David Yost earlier this month.
Keith Faber, the Senate president, and William Batchelder, the House speaker, released a joint statement arguing the state auditor lacks the authority to conduct a full examination of the finances at JobsOhio, the private entity driving state economic development efforts.
They suggested such an audit “could have a devastating impact” on the work at JobsOhio.
All of it echoed the message from John Kasich. The governor and his team objected to Yost, a fellow Republican, issuing a subpoena for the financial records. They have drawn a distinction, the auditor with the authority to review public funds but unable to look at the flow of private money.
For his part, Yost explained that the subpoena followed long and unfruitful negotiations with the governor’s office. He pointed to state law defining the authority of his office: To audit “the accounts of private institutions, associations, boards and corporations receiving public money for their use.” That appears clear enough, or minus the fog factor the governor and others want to apply.
JobsOhio stands to receive a substantial amount of public money, $125 million a year in state liquor revenues. Questions already have surfaced about the public startup money, $1 million the initial sum, jumping to $5.3 million, seemingly without permission from the legislature. Is it really the argument that the official elected by Ohio voters to track and protect public money should be barred from examining the full operation?
There was a test case, involving Summit County and Oriana House, the alternative sentencing provider. Speaker Batchelder was part of the three-judge appeals court panel that ruled in 2000 the state auditor did have the authority to look at the books of a private organization receiving public money. The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously upheld the thinking, except to put off limits the personal financial records of executives.
The question of following the public money at JobsOhio has been front and center from the start. Opponents warned about insufficient oversight during the legislative debate. In response, many Republican supporters argued such criticism was overblown. They pointed to a letter from David Yost assuring that JobsOhio fell under the purview of his office. Now, Batchelder, Faber and company stress they will modify state law to make plain the limits they see in the auditor’s power.
Batchelder noted to reporters the state wouldn’t audit Chrysler or Fiat because state money went for the purchase of cars. The comparison misses widely. JobsOhio receives a huge public subsidy. It wouldn’t function without the funds. The state auditor has a duty to ensure the money is well spent. And if Republicans at the Statehouse insist on preventing the auditor from doing his job, the question surely will grow louder and more persistent: What is JobsOhio trying to hide?