The weather outside the Veterans Memorial Civic & Convention Center in Lima, Tuesday's location for Gov. John Kasich's third and second consecutive State of the State Address from a location other than the Statehouse in Columbus, was frigid as temperatures dipped to the low teens
The temperature inside, though, was warm with Gov. Kasich's rhetoric to his audience in the civic center and those watching on TV that they should not be afraid to think big.
Seating capacity of the venue was 1,700 and Kasich staff said all tickets had been distributed, including to the Ohio General Assembly, which had relocated for the day to this 38,000-person city to hear Gov. Kasich deliver an address that while it followed traditional Kasich cadence and was mostly a recitation of achievements from his first two years in office, also tried to reach for new heights.
"I believe that jobs are our greatest moral purpose," Gov. Kasich said in a line that set the theme for the rest of a speech that interwove his spiritual belief that mission in life and work or interwoven and interrelated. "Because it's through our work that some of our life has meaning. It‘s about our mission. It's about the purposes that the Lord set out for us."
He said his mission is not just to give some people work. "My mission is to make sure that everybody in our state has the chance to realize their hopes and dreams and that their families can do much better. Because it's not good enough for some to do well while we leave others behind. And so we must work every day to make sure that everyone has a chance in Ohio."
Sounding like President Obama, who won Ohio a second time last fall with declarations like "everybody needs a fair shot" despite Kasich's full bore support of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Kasich said, And so we must work every day to make sure that everyone has a chance in Ohio."
As he did in his inaugural address, Gov. Kasich, 60 years old, invoked the Lord today at the outset of his remarks when he said, "It‘s about the purposes that the Lord set out for us."
Mr. Kasich proceeded to turn into the Deacon of Development in frigid downtown Lima Tuesday. "Lima is winning, and Ohio is winning," he said to an audience ready to hear his purpose-driven style epistles on creating jobs. But to create jobs, big change is needed, and Gov. Kasich's message today is don't be afraid.
"We must not fear big ideas. We must embrace them," the former 9-term Congressman from central Ohio counseled. "We can debate them, but at the end of the day, big ideas will renew us, they will restore us." With classic Kasich finality, he said, "This is not ideology. This is just the way the world works." Mr. Kasich, who temperament has been called imperial like that of one-time presidential rival George W. Bush, wants Ohioans to believe that everything he's doing will benefit them, and that it really can't be otherwise.
Gov. Kasich, who defeated former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in 2010 by 2 percentage points in a low-turnout election, had spent years at Fox News hosting his own political talk show, The Heartland. No stranger to good staging and a good show, Kasich, standing in front of an Ohio flag that reached across the stage, used his third SOTS today to sell his budget plan, a $63 billion plan that includes a makeover of the state’s tax code, school funding and expanding Medicaid as the Affordable Care Act provides.
Gov. Kasich used no prepared remarks or read from a TelePrompTer, instead he relied upon bullet points that Press Secretary Rob Nichols told CGE he prefers to reprise a role he's become comfortable with, Deacon of economic development. Standing in a very cold but very reliably red Republican territory, Mr. Kasich preached the gospel of lower tax rates creates jobs, and common sense regulations help business grow. The speech, which featured Kasich moralizing about jobs and families, started at 6:55 PM and ended one-house and 39 minutes later. Kasich, who was escorted to the stage by a platoon of elected officials, waved to the crowd following his remarks, shook some hands, and exited stage right.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell offered his view on the address, including Gov. Kasich's declaration the he won't let up now that Ohio has turned around. "It’s sort of like a boxer. When you’ve got somebody on the ropes, you gotta knock ‘em out…We got to be aggressive. We can’t let up, because we don’t want to go back to where we were. We can’t afford that."
No surprise that Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett had good things to say about the governor's SOTS. "Governor John Kasich hit it out of the park tonight. Once again, he offered a bold and comprehensive budget to further propel Ohio forward. Ohio is making a recovery on Kasich's watch as Governor. By cutting taxes he continues to send the message that Ohioans are creating jobs again. Ohio was in a different state three years ago when we had a Democrat Governor and Democrats in the Ohio House. Ohio had soaring unemployment, unpaid bills, and a poor economic outlook. Today, thanks to Governor John Kasich, Ohio's fiscal house is in order and Ohio's economy is improving. Clearly, Governor Kasich is getting our state back on track. Ohio is winning."
Not everyone was sold on Kasich. As expected, Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga issued this stinging statement. "Governor Kasich’s speech tonight glossed over some significant problems with Ohio’s economic recovery. While we have seen marked improvement on Ohio’s jobs numbers, the fact is even a 6.7 percent unemployment rate is still unacceptably high. And it doesn’t have to be this way. Layoffs in the public sector triggered by Governor Kasich’s misguided spending priorities in his first budget remain a drag on our economic situation. Now, Governor Kasich has proposed to continue his budgeting policies with regard to education and local government funding which will further reduce jobs and impede our recovery.
Burga said layoffs of firefighters, police officers, teachers and other public employees who provide a wide variety of needed services continues to have an impact on nearly every Ohio community. "Unfortunately, Governor Kasich is proposing to raise state sales taxes by $3 billion to pay for another state income tax reduction which will hurt middle and lower income working families and small businesses the most. The Governor is again turning his back on the state's responsibility to properly fund our local communities by forcing Ohioans to decide on the ballot whether to support their local levies for public schools, fire departments and an array of needed services or vote against a new tax they may not be able to afford. This is a complete shell game and we need to restore fairness to our budgeting in Ohio."
Burga said the Ohio AFL-CIO considers the major planks of the Governor's budget proposal as regressive and wrong for Ohio's working families and small businesses, although he's to be commended for his proposal to expand Medicaid. "This was a wise decision that will create and support many jobs and help many struggling Ohioans." The Ohio AFL-CIO, he said, fully supports the governor on this decision and will support the expansion through the legislative process.
In a sympathetic statement from the leader of Ohio's preeminent advocacy group for fair and safe housing and the homeless, Bill Faith explained why Gov. Kasich’s decision was the right one.
"The governor made a smart, compassionate and gutsy decision to include Medicaid Expansion in his budget," Faith said. "It’s smart because not providing coverage means a less reliable, less healthy and less productive work force. It’s compassionate because not expanding Medicaid continues to ignore the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens. And it’s gutsy because not doing it plays right into the partisan bickering that has gridlocked our country."
Before John Kasich became governor, the previous SOTS venue was the Ohio House. Kasich used the Ohio House in his first SOTS, but Kasich style demands change.
The half-term governor was expected to discuss his plan to extend Medicaid coverage to more Ohioans, a decision that has rankled Ohio Tea Party movement leaders as a costly and unwise move. It has elicited applause from progressive voices who though they have disagreed with Republicans on social policies as they relate to safety net issues, see Gov. Kasich's decision to accept the expansion of Medicaid as well.
Mr. Kasich said he knows Medicaid and Medicare, and that transformation is needed. When the federal government figures out how to begin to solve the problems of Medicare and Medicaid, he said, we will be ready to navigate those changes. "But in the meantime, while we're waiting for answers, we should not shoot ourselves in the foot and send our tax dollars to another state to be spent. It is not fair to the taxpayers of the state of Ohio, plain and simple, because if we don't do what we should do on Medicaid, they'll be spending it in California."
Asking people to put "it on your doorstep, and you’ll understand how hard it is," Gov. Kasich entreated them to not be judgmental. "I respect the decision you’re all going to make. I know it’s controversial, just please examine your conscious, keep an open mind, and I think we can work and get there. I sure hope so."
But a tip of the hat to Tea Party types was very real in parts of his talk. For example, he said, it's time that "the government treat the taxpayers with respect and help businesses when they pay their bills."
Last week, the new state budget was introduced, and although some provisions are being applauded, including the expansion of Medicaid benefits to thousands of uninsured Ohioans), the new proposal has drawn critics, who argue slashing essential programs while protecting tax cuts to wealthiest Ohioans and corporations is bad policy.
Kasich critic Gavin DeVore Leonard, of One Ohio Now, elaborates on the uneven development in Kasich's plan. "The share of state taxes paid by businesses and wealthy residents has gone down. Everybody wants lower taxes, but everybody also wants great schools, roads, and public services. In 2005, a tax overhaul ended Ohio's corporate income tax and reduced personal income taxes by 21 percent," he said. Lower taxes, Gov. Kasich has argued, would bring jobs and growth. "But these things haven't materialized," Leonard added. "Ohio has fewer jobs today than we did in 2005. Meanwhile, the state has lost $2.5 billion a year in revenue... Public schools, local governments, and other social services have suffered billions in cuts."
Leonard claims that few Ohioans have benefited from Kasich's economic model. "The governor's plan turns its back on poor and middle-class Ohioans that have struggled the most during the recession, while favoring the wealthy and corporations that have enjoyed millions in profit. Not only does Kasich plan on extending tax cuts for those who don't need them, but his plan would also substantially increase the state's sales tax base by taxing services that range from legal representation to laundromats- services that disproportionately affect poor Ohioans."
He said Gov. Kasich's proposal has questionable investment priorities, noting that Ohio has an improving economy and rising revenues. "But after billions in cuts in the mid-recession budget, the new budget makes no serious attempt to make up for lost ground. By investing in our people and priorities such as public schools, we can create good jobs now that will help grow Ohio's future. Mr. Kasich's budget offers little new money for any of these priorities-the ones middle-class Ohioans are most concerned with."
In related news, a study by the University of Vermont found that Lima, Ohio, was among the cities that showed the most signs of being sad. The study, reported by ABC 5 News, looked at a wide range of emotional, geographic, demographic and health characteristics in geo-tagged tweets from the social network Twitter. It also looked at annual survey data from all 50 states.
"Among many results, we generate taxonomies of states and cities based on their similarities in word use; estimate the happiness levels of states and cities; correlate highly-resolved demographic characteristics with happiness levels; and connect word choice and message length with urban characteristics such as education levels and obesity rates,” stated the study.
The FBI reports that Lima (as in Lima bean, not Lima, Peru) has the highest crime rate for a city its size (20–60,000) in Ohio and also the 9th highest per capita in 2006.
The Rust Belt city in Ohio's northwest quadrant underwent the same trauma that other once vibrant Buckeye cities as manufacturing jobs left and unemployment rose in recent decades.
But Lima, the center of government for Allen County, may be showing signs of life. The local Ford plant, where all-aluminum, 3.5-liter Duratec 35 V6 engines are made, has started running at full capacity again, and a local refinery looks to benefit from Ohio’s growing oil and gas industry, WOSU News reports.
HIO is a coalition of organizations and individuals committed to ending homelessness and to promoting decent, safe, fair, affordable housing for all, with a focus on assisting low-income people and those with special needs.
Near the end, Gov. Kasich asked and answered his own question about what to do now. "Well, what do we do now? Should we rest on our laurels? That's what most people think when you pull out of the depths of where we were—just, you know, kind of relax. Should we put the State on cruise control? Oh, I got another one for you—why don't we just spend the surplus? Things are good, just go ahead and, you know, take your foot off the gas. Well, we're going to keep our foot on the gas here in this Administration, and we hope you will join us."
"Big agenda, isn’t it? A lot of stuff here: turnpike, and higher ed, and K - 12, and tax reform, and, wow, right, wow. I mean, thing s are happening in Ohio. You may not like it all, but it’s pretty cool and look at the total picture.
"It’s a big lift, it’s a big lift to get this done."
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