John Kasich, the peripatetic CEO style governor of Ohio who embraced the Tea Party movement early in 2010 and later that year won a tight election in a low voter turnout election, spent the first half of his four-year term battling Ohio Democrats and state progressives in one skirmish after another over whether his privatization of the state's hitherto public economic development effort—in the form of JobsOhio—is constitutional.
Still maintaining that cutting taxes will boost state revenues and that supply side economics, a favorite theme of Reagan-era advocates like Jack Kemp, works, Gov. John Kasich, 60 years old, seems more a relic of decades gone by than an advance man for a 21st century economic development.
Candidate Kasich, in 2010, said Ohio's department of economic development couldn't move at the "speed of business" because it was so bound up by public rules and regulations that it couldn't perform as well as a private group whose staffers could speak the language of business and keep up with the needs and wants of contemporary businesses looking for a partner in government not another oppressive regulator.
So following the actions of a friendly Republican-led General Assembly that opened its previous two-year session with the passage of a bill that created JobsOhio, Gov. Kasich pet project, Ohio Democrats and sympathetic progressive groups like ProgressOhio have fought the creation of JobsOhio, primarily based on the argument that it violates the Ohio Constitution.
The heated debate got a little hotter Thursday at the Associated Press' annual forum, when Gov. Kasich, recently returned from a few days of pitching Ohio at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week, gave Democrats seeking to unseat him more ammunition to use against him as a governor who likes to bully people, groups and institutions, all the while disparaging the partisanship in Columbus.
"I believe these people that keep suing and intervening and trying to put lawsuits in, questioning constitutionality which is silly—we’ve already had two courts rule, independent court rules against them—they’re obstructionists," Gov. Kasich said in a lawsuit brought by ProgressOhio, a progressive group based in Columbus wants the Ohio Supreme Court to declare JobsOhio unconstitutional. "They’re using—they use these tactics to try to destroy economic development so somehow they can get back in power and do more damage than they’ve already done."
Ohio Democrats are happy Gov. Kasich made these comments today. Their argument all along has been that JobsOhio is an unconstitutional slush fund, and that bonds being sold to fund it, based on turning future liquor profits into cash flow for today, could cause bond buyers headaches if the court ultimately rules the private nonprofit group unconstitutional.
Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern wasted little time today taking after Ohio's governor. "John Kasich cares for the constitution, fairness and playing by the rules about as much as he does for teachers and firefighters. Kasich thinks he and his partisan friends are above the law and shouldn’t have to pay attention to the same rules that everyone else follow," Redfern said in prepared remarks.
"He’s a classic schoolyard bully that’s just looking out for his own political cronies. Independent organizations holding Kasich accountable for potentially illegally siphoning off tax dollars into his own personal slush fund for corporate welfare are simply seeking the sort of transparency this Governor fundamentally opposes."
The Executive Director of ProgressOhio, the group that's challenged Gov. Kasich's efforts at every step, weighed in on his angry comments. "Well, there he goes again -- get on my bus or my bus will run over you," Brian Rothenberg said. "No court has yet to rule on whether JobsOhio is constitutional. The governor laments the long delay but it was his own lawyers that strung out the lawsuit over issues of standing and the right to sue rather than simply letting the court rule on the constitutional grounds. As for politics, Gov. Kasich is misinformed as the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, which rarely is on the same side as ProgressOhio, is in fact working on our case."
Gov. Kasich, whose comments on any given issue give good fodder for reporters, was again accused of being a bully. His facts don't support his statements, ProgressOhio claims. "He swore to uphold the Ohio Constitution, not just the parts he likes. ProgressOhio and other plaintiffs, right and left, are simply participating in the checks and balances that keep power-hungry politicians from no democratic oversight. It may be inconvenient for John Kasich -- but it is essential to taxpayers."
Bond experts and bond investors, sources said, are questioning the timing of the JobsOhio bond deal. Pending litigation, specifically the decision by the Ohio Supreme Court to rule on whether ProgressOhio has standing to sue, could muck-up Gov. Kasich's plans for JobsOhio, which forced the private nonprofit to delay its bond offering by updating its circular to investors to include additional disclosures about the lawsuit.
Kasich critics also allege that he wants the bond sale to go through now so he'll have as much as $600 million from it to apply to his second biennial budget, due Feb. 4. Although the governor has no declared Democratic candidate yet, notwithstanding Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald's all but declared candidate to take him on in 2014, the reelection campaign has been under way for a while.
Gov. Kasich hopes his plan to reduce taxes across the board by using revenue, maybe from higher taxes on oil and gas extractors, can't be trumped by Democrats, who he'll brand as Republicans all ways do as taxers and spenders.
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